Monday, August 17, 2015

What happened to Parity? Dewar Insurance discriminates against people with mental health disorders.


A colleague wrote into our psychiatric society's Listserv --  his son is starting college and he was solicited to purchase tuition reimbursement insurance in case something goes wrong and his son needs to withdraw.  He was surprised to read that the company offered one amount if a student withdraws for 'medical' reasons and another, lesser percentage, if the student withdraws for 'mental health' reasons.  Oh, and the medical leave needs a doctor's note, while a mental health leave requires that the student must have been hospitalized for two consecutive days for the psychiatric condition.  

That seemed outrageous, and it occurred to me that I have a kid in college and I had the same offer for tuition reimbursement insurance sitting in my spam.  Only my offspring is at a different university in a different state and there is no medical vs. mental health differentiation for her large university.  I clicked on a few schools and concluded this was a quirk of my colleague's son's institution.  He was quick to point out that I was wrong -- colleges and universities are all over the map with this, and I soon realized that every school that offers this policy in Maryland has some inequity for mental health reasons-- either a lesser amount of reimbursement or a requirement for hospitalization.  I don't quite understand -- are they saying that mental illnesses are less real or valid so you have to 'prove' you're really sick, and by the way, you get less of a refund?  Disability of all varieties has the potential to be an individual matter especially when it involves pain or fatigue.  And in Maryland, our governor has set the bar quite high -- he was recently diagnosed with an aggressive form of lymphoma and is undergoing chemotherapy -- certainly a good reason to take some time off -- but his photo (minus hair) is in the paper every day with his declaration about some topic or other.  At some level, a doctor of any specialty is left to trust the patient (or not) when he says he just can't do something because he's in too much pain, too tired, too depressed, or his preoccupation with delusions and hallucinations is getting in the way.  

The company mentioned is Dewar -- you can look up a university they cover here: College Tuition Refund - Home Page, but apparently it's been an issue for years.  Below I'll post some articles about the issue from The  New York Times and Psych Central.  It's disheartening that despite this outcry and confrontation in 2011, Dewar continues to have these discriminatory policies.  I couldn't find anything that indicated that NAMI or APA were part of the conversation, but I could well have missed it (~please let me know if I have).  In the comments section on the third article, one person noted that when she complained to Yale's president, then the policy did change to one of equal coverage, but it seems like a war of many small battles which are mostly not being fought.  In addition, I'm posting a link to an excellent summary about why parity legislation has not resulted in the changes that were hoped for.  

On Psych Central:
And more in the NYTimes (read the comments)

And, finally, for anyone interested in an overview of how and why parity is failing, this is an excellent summary, from earlier this month:
Congress tried to fix mental health care in 2008. Lawsuits charge it isn't working.

And, no, I don't want to talk about why the background is green.  Where is Roy when I need him?


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Flipping the Switch

Last week I met with Dr. Irving Reti to talk about brain stimulation as a psychiatric treatment.  Irving is the editor of a new book, Brain Stimulation: Methodologies and Interventions and he happens to be a stimulating guy to chat with.   He divides his brain stimulation into 'convulsive' -- that would be ECT or electroconvulsive therapy -- and 'nonconvulsive' : transcranial magnetic stimulation, transcranial direct-current stimulation or tDCS, and deep brain stimulation).  I wrote about our conversation over on the Clinical Psychiatry News website and please do click over to "Catching up on brain stimulation with Dr. Irving Reti".  I was particularly interested in tDCS which Irving likened to hooking yourself up to a 9-volt battery and he mentioned that the machinery -- not intended to treat psychiatric conditions -- is readily available at  He also recommended a very interesting New Yorker article, Electrified, by Elif Batuman, which talks about an anesthesiologist in Georgia who uses tDCS to treat patients, and himself, for depression .

So with electricity on my mind (not literally, or at least not yet), today I noticed an article on The Carlat Psychiatry Report talking about the use of both transcranial direct and alternating currents

for the treatment of depression, and in "Fisher Wallace and Alpha-stim for Depression," Gregory Sahlman and Jeffery Borckardt talk about the differences between sending direct versus alternating current through the brain and the evidence for both of them.  Apparently the alternating-current device (made by Fisher Wallace) can also be self-administered, and costs a bit more. Stimulating stuff, be the bottom line is that there hasn't been enough controlled research to know if all this electricity works.

And by all means, if you have your own stimulating stories to share, please post them in the comment section below.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Does Watch-Your-Words Political Correctness in Universities Contribute to Mental Illness?

There's an interesting article in The Atlantic about how we now coddle college students by avoiding certain ideas -- and even certain words -- that might be offensive to someone.  The article talks about certain words/ideas being 'microagressions' and that professors offer 'trigger warnings,' if course material might remind people of past traumas.  

In The Coddling of the American Mind, Greg Lukianoff and Johnathan Haidt write, "Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress."  Wait, so we think our top lawyers should not be educated about rape law?  Who will prosecute or defend the rapists?

The list of what might be offensive is long and sometimes a bit oblique for me, and I have to say, I wonder about first amendment rights to free speech (or any speech), when the topics come down to things such as this:
During the 2014–15 school year, for instance, the deans and department chairs at the 10 University of California system schools were presented by administrators at faculty leader-training sessions with examples of microaggressions. The list of offensive statements included: “America is the land of opportunity” and “I believe the most qualified person should get the job.”

America may or may not be the land of opportunity, but if a college professor truly believes that, he can't say it?  And (*beware, possible micro-agression in the rest of the sentence*), I'm totally lost as to what is wrong with expressing the personal belief that the most qualified person should get the job.  

The authors write:
The press has typically described these developments as a resurgence of political correctness. That’s partly right, although there are important differences between what’s happening now and what happened in the 1980s and ’90s. That movement sought to restrict speech (specifically hate speech aimed at marginalized groups), but it also challenged the literary, philosophical, and historical canon, seeking to widen it by including more-diverse perspectives. The current movement is largely about emotional well-being. More than the last, it presumes an extraordinary fragility of the collegiate psyche, and therefore elevates the goal of protecting students from psychological harm. The ultimate aim, it seems, is to turn campuses into “safe spaces” where young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make some uncomfortable. And more than the last, this movement seeks to punish anyone who interferes with that aim, even accidentally. You might call this impulse vindictive protectiveness. It is creating a culture in which everyone must think twice before speaking up, lest they face charges of insensitivity, aggression, or worse....

Today, what we call the Socratic method is a way of teaching that fosters critical thinking, in part by encouraging students to question their own unexamined beliefs, as well as the received wisdom of those around them. Such questioning sometimes leads to discomfort, and even to anger, on the way to understanding.

But vindictive protectiveness teaches students to think in a very different way. It prepares them poorly for professional life, which often demands intellectual engagement with people and ideas one might find uncongenial or wrong. The harm may be more immediate, too. A campus culture devoted to policing speech and punishing speakers is likely to engender patterns of thought that are surprisingly similar to those long identified by cognitive behavioral therapists as causes of depression and anxiety. The new protectiveness may be teaching students to think pathologically.

The authors contend that over time, parents have become more concerned with safety, from bullying which might contribute to mass murders, to peanut butter bans, to unsafe playground equipment.  Children have learned that the world is an unsafe place and adults will provide protection.  

Read the article, because the examples go on and on, one includes a hearing against a young man who was disciplined for reading a book about the Klan (specifically about how a college protested the Ku Klux Klan) because the picture on the cover offended another student.  

The authors go on to note: 

Because there is a broad ban in academic circles on “blaming the victim,” it is generally considered unacceptable to question the reasonableness (let alone the sincerity) of someone’s emotional state, particularly if those emotions are linked to one’s group identity. The thin argument “I’m offended” becomes an unbeatable trump card.
 Furthermore, they contend that avoiding discussion of certain topics is not helpful to people with problems and may create pathology in those without them:
However, there is a deeper problem with trigger warnings. According to the most-basic tenets of psychology, the very idea of helping people with anxiety disorders avoid the things they fear is misguided. A person who is trapped in an elevator during a power outage may panic and think she is going to die. That frightening experience can change neural connections in her amygdala, leading to an elevator phobia. If you want this woman to retain her fear for life, you should help her avoid elevators.

But if you want to help her return to normalcy, you should take your cues from Ivan Pavlov and guide her through a process known as exposure therapy. You might start by asking the woman to merely look at an elevator from a distance—standing in a building lobby, perhaps—until her apprehension begins to subside. If nothing bad happens while she’s standing in the lobby—if the fear is not “reinforced”—then she will begin to learn a new association: elevators are not dangerous. (This reduction in fear during exposure is called habituation.) Then, on subsequent days, you might ask her to get closer, and on later days to push the call button, and eventually to step in and go up one floor. This is how the amygdala can get rewired again to associate a previously feared situation with safety or normalcy.

Students who call for trigger warnings may be correct that some of their peers are harboring memories of trauma that could be reactivated by course readings. But they are wrong to try to prevent such reactivations. Students with PTSD should of course get treatment, but they should not try to avoid normal life, with its many opportunities for habituation. Classroom discussions are safe places to be exposed to incidental reminders of trauma (such as the word violate). A discussion of violence is unlikely to be followed by actual violence, so it is a good way to help students change the associations that are causing them discomfort. And they’d better get their habituation done in college, because the world beyond college will be far less willing to accommodate requests for trigger warnings and opt-outs.

The expansive use of trigger warnings may also foster unhealthy mental habits in the vastly larger group of students who do not suffer from PTSD or other anxiety disorders. People acquire their fears not just from their own past experiences, but from social learning as well. If everyone around you acts as though something is dangerous—elevators, certain neighborhoods, novels depicting racism—then you are at risk of acquiring that fear too. The psychiatrist Sarah Roff pointed this out last year in an online article for The Chronicle of Higher Education. “One of my biggest concerns about trigger warnings,” Roff wrote, “is that they will apply not just to those who have experienced trauma, but to all students, creating an atmosphere in which they are encouraged to believe that there is something dangerous or damaging about discussing difficult aspects of our history.”
The authors conclude, for a number of reasons, that shielding students from potentially controversial or upsetting words and ideas is wrong -- it leaves them too thin-skinned and it creates an intellectual environment of homogeneity.  What's the answer? The authors conclude that college students should all be taught Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help them deal with uncomfortable ideas.  The whole article was great food for thought, although the idea that we are stifling intellectual innovation and exploration for fear of using a word that might offend someone, well it makes me kind of uncomfortable. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Adventure in Peru

I have to tell you: I had the most incredible summer adventure in Peru.  Yes, it was part vacation, coordinated mostly by a friend who is a native of the country and was able to show a group of us the country with a native's insights, and that alone was fabulous.  But the other part of our trip was a volunteer medical mission in the Andes, outside the beautiful city of Cusco.  If you'd like to read about my experience on this mission, I'll invite you to read today's post over on Clinical Psychiatry News: Single Session Psychiatry at 11,000 feet

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Your Kidneys or Your Sanity: Two Bad Options

There's a article in the New York Times by Jaime Lowe titled, "I don't believe in God, but I believe in Lithium."  I had no idea the two were mutually exclusive or even had anything to do with one another!  The title aside, I liked the article. 

Lowe describes devastating bouts of psychotic mania, and how lithium enables her to lead a functional and productive life, with mental illness held at bay.  Until her renal function starts to tank. 

Lowe writes:

I wanted a calmer life. So for the next 13 years, I took my three pink capsules and all was well. I wrote a book, I learned how to cook in an Italian-restaurant kitchen, I had a few relationships that lasted longer than a month, I wrote, I boxed, I traveled, I painted, I took my pills. I was fine.

Then, last fall, I saw my primary physician — and he sent me to the nearest emergency room. He was alarmed at my combination of high creatinine levels, damaged kidneys and heart-attack-level blood pressure (185/130). At Mount Sinai Hospital, my doctor’s fears were confirmed in a matter of days: My kidneys were irreparably damaged, an ‘‘uncommon but not rare’’ side effect of long-term lithium use. I was told I could phase out lithium and start another medication, or face dialysis and a kidney transplant in 10 years.

It doesn’t really feel like an obvious choice; it just feels like two bad options. Switching meds might mean the return of cornrowed, Eminem-obsessed Jamya and many seasonal gourds. Yet tubing up and cleansing my blood until I get a stranger’s kidney quilted into the rest of my insides is hardly more appealing. Test results indicate that my kidneys are working about half as well as they should; Maria DeVita, a nephrologist at Lenox Hill Hospital, told me that if I am to switch to preserve the kidney function I have left, ‘‘the time to strike is now.’’

Wishing her luck coming off, and I hope it turns out that there is a third and fourth option that work as well for her.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

He's still just like someone without mental illness, only more so.

I wanted to share this wonderful essay with you.  It's by Mark Vonnegut, and you may remember the review I wrote and how I loved his memoir, Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness, Only More So. 

This is an essay posted on KevinMD, "A doctor shares his story about overcoming mental illness"  and do surf over to read the whole thing. I promise you'll be moved.  

Here's a part of Dr. Vonnegut's writing: 

In my career as a mental patient, I started with schizophrenia, worked my way up through manic depression, and have now settled at bipolar disorder. I can joke about it because I recovered sufficiently to get into and through medical school, internship, and residency, and have had the enormous honor and privilege of being trusted by parents to help them and their children. I make no bones about it; I make mistakes just like everyone else, but am very proud of how well I do my job.

I’m also very aware of how easily I could have ended up otherwise — a suicide statistic or just another broken young man who never got well enough to have a life.

The diagnosis doesn’t matter much. What they think you have can give doctors a clue about what to do or not do, but for the person who is suffering, and for those who love him or her, wanting the pain and trouble to stop is enough. Knowing that others have recovered is very helpful; most patients, including myself, have diagnosed themselves as hopeless more than once.

He goes on: 

The reverse is also true; just because you don’t hear voices, doesn’t make you a model of mental health. One of the problems with mental health diagnosis is how reassuring the process is to “so-called normal” people. The sub-text to me having a thinking disorder is that your thinking is fine. I freely admit that I have an affective disorder, and find the idea that my feelings are more than a little off-base a huge relief — but to jump from my affective disorder to the conclusion that your feelings make perfect sense is just illogical.

There are all kinds of statistics, but the bottom line is that no one among us is 100 percent crazy, and no one is 100 percent sane. The chance that you or someone you love won’t need help at some point with what we broadly call “mental illness” is 0.

And finally:
There ain’t no difference between them and us. We’re all here to help each other through this, whatever it is.
There’s almost always something positive you can do; the problem is believing in that possibility, and letting others help you figure out what it is.


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Join Us at 9 PM EST for a Tweet Chat on Social Media in Medicine

Dr. Margaret Chisolm was the recent guest editor for International Review of Psychiatry's edition that was devoted to social media in medicine.  The issue is open at no cost for the month of June and the Shrink Rappers all contributed--

Tonight, some of the contributors will be involved in a Tweetchat on the uses of Social media in medicine.  Do join us:

2h2 hours ago

Monday, June 15, 2015

Dressing the Part


The New York Times has a rather interesting opinionator piece by Dr. David Hellerstein called "The Dowdy Patient."  Hellerstein talks about the frustration of treating a lovely woman who longed for a relationship but was notably 'dowdy.'  I'm chopping pieces from Hellerstein's essay below:

A boyfriend, then marriage, and soon after that, kids — that was pretty much all that Greta felt was missing from her otherwise enviable existence, which included Ivy League degrees, a Wall Street career, a downtown loft....

For more than a year, Greta and I met once and sometimes twice per week for psychotherapy and medication treatment....The only area of her life that didn’t improve was romance. Not that she didn’t go on dates, but they typically were one-off events. There never seemed to be a spark, much less a flame.

One day, after a bit of hemming and hawing — I knew it would be a sensitive topic — I raised the obvious: Had she considered getting a makeover? One of her friends, as Greta herself had told me, had recently seen an “image consultant” who recommended a whole new wardrobe, new hairstyle, different makeup. Could that, I asked, possibly be helpful?

Years of psychotherapy training had given me no guidance in how to deal with the staunchly dowdy patient.

But advice about the patient who refuses to be attractive? No.

Maybe a female or gay male therapist would have had an easier time addressing this topic with Greta. But for me, as a straight male working with a straight female patient, every option seemed blocked. Basically, no matter how I tried to put it, I would be saying, “I find you unappealing.”
Which, at least to Greta, would have raised the reasonable question, Why on earth would she want me to find her appealing? The whole thing reeked of grossness.

Psychotherapy is about helping people to see the patterns in their life so that they can make changes.  But it's not about telling people they look awful.  And just the thought of a male psychiatrist telling a female patient to have a make-over makes my skin crawl.  Indeed, it reeks of grossness.  Of note, the first time that Hellerstein brought up the idea with his patient, she stopped him in his tracks -- she told him she dresses up to go out on weekends and her friends say she looks great.

I wanted to write about this, however, because I could relate to Hellerstein's frustration.  I don't have a dowdy patient, but I felt  Hellerstein's awkwardness and difficulty bringing up the elephant in the room --the elephant that seems to exist for one person, the therapist in this case.  While I don't have a dowdy patient, I have had patients whose issues-- whether inappropriate attire or inappropriate anger -- have clearly gotten in their way. For example, one man always wore very dark sunglasses inside and didn't understand why people wouldn't talk to him at social events (remember, somewhat confabulated here) then dismissed my concerns when I suggested that maybe people would like to see his eyes. 

 In these stories, it's really not a therapist's job to say "Have you considered deodorant?" or  perhaps dressing like the person you want to be (employed, sexy, respectable) -- these are things people should hear from friends and relatives, and the truth is that they've all heard it, and often it seems they just don't want to believe that it's actually part of the problem.   And since therapy isn't about having someone scream at a patient that it really is the dowdy clothes sending the wrong message ---(and perhaps the patient does look great on dates and the dowdy clothes aren't the reason for the lack of relationships....), well...these they dowdy clothes, or an off-putting personality trait that the patient doesn't want to acknowledge...make for tough times in psychotherapy.


Sunday, June 07, 2015

Is Psychiatry Monolithic? Can You Rule Out Mental Illness By Reading Someone's Journal/Sketchbook? And, The Murphy Bill Returns

A few things from around the web:

In The Myth of Monolithic Psychiatry, Dr. George Dawson takes on the question of "Is Psychiatry Monolithic?"  I didn't know what that even meant, but now I do, and this is a terrific piece and well worth the read.

Over on the Marshall Report,  former APA president Jeffrey Lieberman gives his opinion on the notebook the Aurora shooter mailed to his student counseling center psychiatrist before he killed innocent people in a movie theater.   Based on his review of the notebook, Lieberman was able to conclude:
His chief complaint and reason for seeking help at the university health center was related to interpersonal issues and anxiety. He does not reveal what would be considered psychotic symptoms. The major issues are his alienation, disaffection, isolation, fear and anger. No mental disorder is clearly apparent. 

Wait, do psychiatrists do that -- rule out the presence of a mental illness -- without so much as meeting the patient?  I guess I missed that part of training.   I'd also like to add as an aside that while I have no idea if the shooter had a psychotic illness or was responsible for his actions (alas, I've never met him), I do think that intense psychic pain should fall under the rubric of what psychiatrists treat even if the symptoms don't add up to meet the DSM Chinese menu criteria for a specific mental disorder. 

And the text for the 2015 version of the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis came out on Thursday.  The text of the new congressional act is 173 pages long, nearly 40 pages longer than the last version.  Pete Early did a stand up job of getting right on it and comparing the new bill to the 2013 text in  Murphy Introduces Revamped Bill.  Outpatient Commitment is apparently no longer required, but states who adopt it will get extra funds, which I guess I find less objectionable, sort of.  And there are some limitations on ending privacy rights for psychiatric patients which I think might do a better job of serving the intent of loosening these requirements.  I'm still not a fan of singling out psychiatric patients as the only people who can't instruct a doctor not to release information about their care.  And finally,  I'm not sure how Murphy is planning to make more psychiatrists -- our field is already in a shortage situation, and psychiatrists are aging out of the field, with the majority of psychiatrists who are currently in practice now being over age 55.  Personally, I think the only way to get more people into the field is to subsidize medical school for those who go into the field.  As it stands now,  many medical students just can't take on the astronomical educational debt and still manage on a psychiatrist's pay.  

I'm still not sure I support the new version (Oh, I haven't read it and don't know if I will) but this does seem better.  Do check out Pete's post.

And to those who've commented on our decreased rate of blogging, rest assured that we're making good progress with our upcoming book on involuntary psychiatric treatment.


Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Medicare Spending on Mental Health is Up! And Why is This a Surprise?

In today's edition of USAToday, there is an article titled Mental Health Spending is Up, New Medicare Data Shows.  

The article notes:
Medicare providers got more for mental health and specialty care including sports and sleep medicine in 2013, according to new payment data released Monday that shows which healthcare providers received the most money.
Among the biggest changes:
• Spending on psychiatry was up 9.3%, to $853 million

Okay, so I want to point out that in 2013,  psychiatry changed how we code and there was the introduction of new CPT codes.  At the time, the complexity and absurdity of breaking down minute-by-minute break down of each session into psychotherapy versus evaluation/management seemed absurd, but we all eventually fell into breaking our appointments down into a set of codes that captures what we do.  It meant that bills sent to Medicare reflected an E/M portion plus a psychotherapy portion, and the result was a much higher amount that could be billed/charged then under the old "50 minute psychotherapy with medication management code."  

So if you suddenly increase the amount that a service is compensated, why is it surprising that mental health spending went up?  Just sayin' .....

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Shrink Rappers at the American Psychiatric Association's Annual Meeting in Toronto, May 2015

APA starts today and I'm updating the list of talks we'll be giving.  Roy is already in Toronto for the APA assembly.  We will  be doing the same talks as I had previously posted, but some of the other speakers in our symposia/workshops have had to cancel, so here is the updated schedule.  Any suggestions for restaurants or fun sights in Toronto will be much appreciated!

I'd like to invite you to come here us speak at this year's annual meeting in Toronto.

We will be speaking at the following symposia and workshops:

Value in Mental Healthcare: What Does It Mean, and Who Decides? - Symposium
 Toronto Convention Centre - South, Level 800, Room 801 A,  
 2:00 PM - 5:00 PM, Monday May 18th

Robert Roca, MD, MBA, MPH
  --Value: Medicine's Holy Grail
Benjamin Liptzin, MD
   --Value: Perspectives on Outcomes and Costs
Henry Harbin, MD
   --Measuring Outcomes Using Standardized Tools: Why It's    
      Important and How To do It
Dinah Miller, MD
 --Value: What Matters to the People We Treat?
Sunil Khushalani, MD
  -- Eliminate Waste, Improve Value
Steven Sharfstein, MD
- Are You a Sitting Duck Online? What You Can (and Can't, or Shouldn't) Do About Negative Reviews Your Patients Post About You-Workshop

Toronto Convention Centre - South, Level 700, Room 711, 9:00 AM - 10:30 AM, Tuesday May 19, 2015;


 Introduction to review sites: John Luo, MD
 Personal experience of negative review: Dinah Miller, MD
 Small group exercise
 Constructive responses by individual psychiatrists and the    
    psychiatric profession:  Paul Appelbaum, MD 
 Future directions: Laura Roberts, MD
 Q and A

Practical Privacy Issues 

Wed, 5/20: 11:00 AM  - 12:30 PM
11:00 A.M. Sessions

Metro Toronto Convention Centre -Level 800, South Building 

Room: Room 802 A-B 


~Paul Appelbaum, M.D.,  NY State Psychiatric Institute 

~ Erik Vanderlip, M.D.,M.P.H. University of Washington

~Lori Simon, M.D.

~Steve Daviss, M.D.    FUSE Health Strategies LLC


  • List issues related to electronic health records and HIPAA and other laws and regulations and how to cope with them.
  • Describe how to avoid computer and technology operations that increase the risk of confidential data being stolen.
  • Take steps to limit risks of financial data being stolen apart from other steps to safeguard patient-specific sensitive data.
  • Describe how to use psychotherapy notes to maintain privacy. 
National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention: Recommendations for Prevention From the Suicide Attempt Survivors Task Force Report--Symposium
 Toronto Convention Centre - South, Level 800, Room 803 A/B, 2:00 PM - 5:00 PM

The stigma around suicide is often associated with whispers or silence, despite the fact that prevention of suicide is a national priority. The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention
convened a national task force of suicide attempt survivors last year, releasing a groundbreaking, federally funded report called The Way Forward. The goal of this report is to provide a framework for national, state, and local stakeholders to use when developing resources and initiatives to prevent suicide as part of the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention.
This groundbreaking report identified eight Core Values and seven Recommendations that are helping to catalyze major changes in the national approach to suicide prevention and response. The
speakers will discuss ways in which clinicians and others can bring the report's recommendations to life and open channels of communication and awareness around the topic of suicidal thinking.

Chair: Steven Daviss, MD
Discussant: Dinah Miller, MD

: John Draper, Ph.D. : Project Director for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Presenter: Eduardo Vega, MA

Finally, Dr. Hanson will not be presenting at APA, but she will be presenting at the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law meetings in Toronto earlier in May.  We will post her schedule once it is finalized.   

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Per Twitter: Dear Dr. Lieberman and others.....

 Oh my. So over on my Twitter account, I tweeted a tweet that has now been favorited, retweeted, mentioned, ?distorted, and tagged such that I've received over 30 notifications on all sorts of stuff I'd rather have nothing to do with. 

So let me start the story at the beginning.  Earlier in May, the New York Times ran a column called This is My Brain on PMS.   It was a first person account of someone's mental anguish and emotional instability during the premenstrual time.  

Jeffrey Lieberman is a former APA president, the chairman of psychiatry at Columbia, and author of a new book on the history of psychiatry called "Shrinks."   Dr. Lieberman has previously tweeted sentiments that indicate that he wishes the NY Times would publish more science-oriented psychiatry articles and devote less precious space to these "opinionator" pieces or to anything with a sentiment that is critical of psychiatry, although I understand his book is rather critical of psychoanalytic practice.   It's hard to know what is in someone's heart in 140 characters, and Dr. Lieberman posted the following tweet:

I guess the introspections repeatedly published by do provide 1st person accts of disorders

Why is a patient's narrative of their difficulties 'narcissism'? . Perhaps public accounts are destigmatizing.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Writing about Patients -- or Not

CouchNovelist and psychoanalyst Lisa Gornick has an article in today's NYTime Opinionator, Why I Never Write About My Patients.  She talks about how she ended her career as a psychoanalyst when her novels became successful.  First a leave of absence, then the separation became a divorce.

Gornick writes:

During the years when my stories appeared only in obscure literary journals, never seen by any of my patients, the marriage between my occupations was comfortable. With the publicity that accompanied the publication of my first novel, in 2002, however, many patients became aware of my writing. I knew that whatever responses they might have were “grist” for the therapy mill, but I also knew that just as dreams are transformations of the unconscious of the dreamer, literary works plumb their authors’ inner lives. Analytically oriented therapists such as myself use our responses in sessions as a way of understanding our patients — in a sense, lending our unconscious for the purposes of the treatment. But adding my patients’ responses to my novel into the mix — having my characters, with their links to other corners of my unconscious, in the treatment room — risked, I feared, both clogging the therapeutic mill with too much grist and inhibiting my writing work out of concern for its impact on my patients.

I stopped taking new patients, gave my current patients 18 months notice (sufficient time for nearly all to complete their treatment) and commenced an extended leave.

Eight years later, I tested the waters for returning to my practice — only to discover that the separation should be a divorce. With many of my stories and essays and interviews now available online, and with new mores in which there is no hesitation about looking up anything about anyone, I felt too exposed.
 I'm not one for writing about my own patients, it just doesn't seem either necessary or right, so I can relate to Gornick's concerns.  But when it comes to the analytic belief that the psychoanalyst must be a blank slate whose personal life remains hidden from the patient, then I drift off.  Times have changed and it's hard to remain obscure.  I like social media, and the Internet makes us all so much more more exposed than we'd like to be.  It takes a rare person to ward off every activity that might show up online.  When I think about it, I feel smothered.  In the office, I'm mostly me, but modified to meet the needs of my patients.  In my free time, I'm all me and fortunately the 'me' who lets loose has no criminal convictions.  

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Some thoughts on Authority and Victimization

This is our blog, and it's my place to vent some, and on this beautiful morning in Baltimore with all the trees in bloom in pink and white, I could really use some space to vent.  While none of us were in the middle of the unrest, it is awful to watch our beloved city on CNN -- this isn't how it should be.
I'm not going to write about riots or police brutality, but I do want to write a little about authority and  victimization, and for that I'm going to ask you to surf over to my friend Pete Earley's blog where he talks about a psychiatric patient who was arrested after biting a nurse in an Emergency Room.  And Pete is my friend, but I may not be gentle here, but I'll trust that he'll still be my friend even if we don't agree about everything.

Before I start, I want to make it clear: I oppose violence of all kinds by all people.  I strongly oppose police brutality, and I strongly oppose  throwing bricks at anyone or destroying businesses and property.  Let there be peace in Baltimore today and tonight and for all days to come. 

  #Black lives matter.  #Blue lives matter.  #Patient lives matter. #Nurses lives matter
 # All lives matter. 

So Mr. Earley wrote a post not long ago titled  We Took Our Daughter to the ER for Help. She Ended Up Being Arrested. 
     A parent writes in:
My daughter was then informed that she was going to be involuntarily hospitalized. She became even more agitated and when she threatened to leave, a nurse confronted her and a scuffle broke out. My daughter was forcibly restrained by five hospital personnel.
The nurse prepared an injection to calm her and my daughter, who was terrified, said: “’I’ll take the pill. I’m scared of needles.” The nurse proceeded to give her the shot anyway and my daughter would later tell us that she went black.
The nurse was pushing her elbow into my daughter’s chest and our daughter bit the nurse’s arm. She didn’t break the skin and there was no blood. 
Our daughter was put in restraints. Her arms and legs were all restrained, so tightly that her hands began turning purple. I thought things couldn’t get worse but they did. Two officers showed up at the ER to arrest my daughter for aggravated battery against the nurse.

The parent continues -- she's angry that the charges weren't diverted to a mental health court because the nurse wouldn't agree to this.  The parent is distressed and doesn't feel her daughter should be criminalized.

When you look at it, this post is rich with material on so many levels and there are so many things to take issue with.  I wasn't in the room, so I don't know if there wasn't some kinder and gentler way of dealing with this patient besides restraining her, injecting her, and escalating her fear and anger.  And really, if the story is accurate, then perhaps it would be reasonable for the patient to plead self-defense, or to press charges herself for the brutal treatment she received (I have no idea if a patient can do that).  Here, however is what Mr. Earley has to say:

"It is even tougher to understand why some victims insist on pursuing charges when the infraction seems so minor, as it appears to be in the case of the nurse who was bitten."

I, like Pete, believe that people in authority need to have special training in dealing with difficult populations and that people should not be unnecessarily provoked.   But we know nothing about the nurse besides the fact that she went to work, did her job (for better or for worse) and was bitten.  I don't know that the right answer here is to press charges, but I also know that it's not reasonable to tell people they need to go to a job every day where they must tolerate being assaulted without any recourse.  Perhaps the nurse had been assaulted numerous times -- mental health staff often are --  and this can lead to a traumatized staff.  I heard one story recently about a psych nurse whose eye was poked out by a new patient on a unit with no warning (~not in the course of restraining someone) by a patient who had a history of violent crimes.

I don't have an answer for this.  People get angry when they are mistreated, and as a society, we've become sympathetic to the victims of an aggressive authority and some people have decided that the resultant violent  response is understandable.    But the assumption is that the person in authority should be focused on doing the exact right thing, even if it means tolerating a work environment where they are in danger, often repeatedly, and that's just part of the deal.  The story above is told from the patient's perspective, not from the nurse's, and her side is dismissed for her lack of understanding and for insisting on pursuing charges for a minor infraction.  The assumption is that those in authority are somehow immune to the traumatization, fear, exhaustion, and if not, they should stay home or find another job.  And actually, perhaps someone who's sticking their elbow into a patient's chest should stay home, but then again, it's a third hand account and and we don't know the details of what transpired in the heat of the moment.

What's my point?  Simply that we're all human and perhaps these stories need to be heard from all sides before judgement is passed.  Perhaps if we could hear from the nurse, we might understand why she insisted on pressing charges, or perhaps we still might think this too extreme a response.  But it does nothing to encourage people to go into the field if you make the statement that they'll need to tolerate human biting without recourse.

Please don't read this as the idea that I'm condoning brutality by anyone.  I'm a huge proponent of kinder, gentler care, and I'm totally opposed to anyone biting nurses.  Some stories, however, lose something when you only hear one side. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Involuntary Commitment and Suicide: Looking for Stories

As our regular readers know, we are working on a book called --at this moment in time-- Committed: The Battle Over Forced Psychiatric Care.  We're trying to focus on stories and as many people know, suicidal ideas and behaviors are one reason why people get committed.  I'm looking for one or two stories for our chapter about the experiences people have had with forced care and the spectrum of suicidality.  In particular, I'd like to hear from people who feel an involuntary admission helped them or a family member to get much needed treatment.  As always, however, I'll take what I can get.  Please feel free to comment below, or better, shoot me an email at shrinkrapblog at gmail dot com if you'd be willing to share your story in a book.  Obviously, we won't be using patient names or identifying information.