TagThe New Yorker

Reading of the Week: Is ECT Really Safe? The New Lancet Psychiatry Paper; Also, Antrim on His ECT (New Yorker)

From the Editor

Is it safe?

The first treatment of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) was administered in 1938. Yet decades later, people still debate the safety of this treatment; a study found that one in five patients reported fear of death as a major concern. (And, yes, so many of our patients have seen that movie.)

In our first selection, we consider a new and important paper on this topic, just published in The Lancet Psychiatry. Dr. Tyler S. Kaster (of the University of Toronto) and his co-authors attempt to answer the safety question by comparing those who received ECT with those who didn’t in the context of depression and inpatient care. “In this population-based study of more than 5000 admissions involving electroconvulsive therapy for inpatients with depression, the rate of serious medical events within 30 days was very low among those exposed to electroconvulsive therapy and a closely matched unexposed group (0.5 events per person-year vs 0.33 events per person-year), with those who received electroconvulsive therapy having a numerically lower risk of medical complications.” We look at the big study, with an eye on clinical implications.

ect-1945ECT machine (cira 1950)

In the other selection, we look at a new essay from The New Yorker. Writer Donald Antrim – an accomplished novelist and a MacArthur fellow – discusses his depression, his suicidal thoughts, and his decision to opt for ECT. He notes that after treatment: “I felt something that seemed brand new in my life, a sense of calm, even happiness.”

DG

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Reading of the Week: COVID & Mental Health Access in China (AJP); also, Transformational Care (EBMH) and Psych Wards (New Yorker)

From the Editor

What’s the latest in the literature on COVID and mental health? This week, we focus again on the pandemic with three selections.

In the first, we consider a paper on mental health services at a Chinese hospital during the pandemic. In this American Journal of Psychiatry study, Dr. Junying Zhou (of Sichuan University) and co-authors report on a survey of existing and new outpatients, finding major problems with access. Among the findings: one in five found that their mental health had deteriorated due to a lack of access to care. The authors advocate further study to “ameliorate the negative impact of viral outbreaks in the general public, especially among those vulnerable patients with mental problems.”

coronavirus-4945950_960_720

Will COVID change health care once the virus has burned out? In the second selection, we consider a new EBMH editorial by Dr. Katharine Smith (of Oxford University) and her co-authors. They write: “In order to reappraise effectively our new ways of working, both in the immediate management of issues during the pandemic and also during the longer-term aftermath, we need fast-track implementation of evidence-based medicine techniques in mental health to supply the best evidence to clinicians on specific questions in real time.”

Finally, in the third selection, we look at an essay from The New Yorker. Reporter Masha Gessen argues that psychiatric wards are particularly vulnerable during the pandemic. Gessen speaks to several doctors who offer a similar if haunting story: “how a lack of testing, P.P.E., and seclusion protocols were making a difficult task – maintaining the safety of a highly vulnerable population and their care workers during a pandemic – virtually impossible.”

DG

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Reading of the Week: Gawande’s New Yorker Essay on Primary Care (and, Yes, Mental Health)

From the Editor

How is health care changing?

To answer that question, we look this week not to a medical journal, but to The New Yorker. We consider an essay not on new drugs or imaging, but on the quiet rise of… primary care.

Primary care and the future

Dr. Atul Gawande writes a long essay on the virtues of primary care. Considering how medicine has shifted from acute care to chronic illness, he describes the importance of primary care, drawing on his own training and thinking – and the cardiac issues of his son.

Though this essay doesn’t directly consider mental illness, it is very relevant.

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Reading of the Week: Mukherjee’s Essay on Schizophrenia, Genetics, and His Uncle

From the Editor

This is a moving essay about family and loss – and the long shadow of mental illness.

It’s lengthy, but worth the time.

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Reading of the Week: The New Yorker Essay on De Troyer (and Carter v. Canada)

In her diary, Godelieva De Troyer classified her moods by color. She felt “dark gray” when she made a mistake while sewing or cooking. When her boyfriend talked too much, she moved between “very black” and “black!” She was afflicted with the worst kind of “black spot” when she visited her parents at their farm in northern Belgium. In their presence, she felt aggressive and dangerous. She worried that she had two selves, one “empathetic, charming, sensible” and the other cruel.

She felt “light gray” when she went to the hairdresser or rode her bicycle through the woods in Hasselt, a small city in the Flemish region of Belgium, where she lived. At these moments, she wrote, she tried to remind herself of all the things she could do to feel happy: “demand respect from others”; “be physically attractive”; “take a reserved stance”; “live in harmony with nature.” She imagined a life in which she was intellectually appreciated, socially engaged, fluent in English (she was taking a class), and had a “cleaning lady with whom I get along very well.”

So begins this week’s reading, an essay by writer Rachel Aviv that was just published in The New Yorker.

It’s a moving and tragic story of a woman who struggles with low mood. If she dreams of fluent English and a cleaning lady, her life takes a turn for the worse: after a breakup, she “feels black again.” Loss and estrangement replace hope and love. After years of struggling, the near elderly woman ultimately chooses to end her life. But she doesn’t die by her own hand; she dies in a clinic at the hands of a physician. To us Canadians, this is a story that is both familiar – involving psychiatry and medications – and unfamiliar – euthanasia and state-sanctioned doctor-assisted suicide.

De Troyer’s life and death occurs an ocean away, in Belgium. But, in light of a recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling in Carter v. Canada, a question to ask: how will doctor-assisted suicide reshape psychiatry in this country? Continue reading