Quote of the Week

As I see it, every day you do one of two things: build health or produce disease in yourself. — Adelle Davis

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Analysis of "Depression: Out of the Shadows"


The show is essentially Depression 101 – for those new to learning
about the illness.
As someone who struggles with depression (within
bipolar disorder), I found a lot of the two hours pretty boring (90
minutes on personal stories and about 22 minutes for "candid
conversation"). The "a lot" comes from the stuff that I've either heard before or flies over my head, eg, how depression affects the brain, prefrontal cortex, neurotransmitters, synapses, etc. The personal stories were powerful: depressingly heartwarming. (Yes, I mean that.)

My heart sank as I heard the stories of Emma and Hart, teenagers who were diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder, respectively. Both were such extreme cases that they needed to be sent away for special psychiatric care. They are on medications for their disorders; the specific drugs are never mentioned.

While watching Deana's story of treatment-resistant depression, I instantly thought of Herb of VNSDepression.com whose wife suffers from the same malady.

I tried to listen attentively for the antidepressant that Ellie, who suffered from PPD after the birth of her first child, would be taking during her next pregnancy. It was never mentioned.

My jaw nearly dropped to the carpet as Andrew Solomon, carefully plucked brightly colored pills from his pillbox that he takes every morning for his unipolar depression: Remeron, Zoloft, Zyprexa, Wellbutrin, Namenda, Ranitidine, and two kinds of fish oil. He might have even mentioned Prozac. He takes Namenda, an Alzheimer's drug to combat the effects of an adverse interaction between Wellbutrin and one of the other drugs that I can't remember. Solomon says he's happy. I'm happy for him and I'm happy that his drug cocktail works for him but I couldn't help but sit there and wonder, "Isn't there a better way?"

While I thought the stories covered the gamut, in retrospect, I'm surprised they didn't interview a veteran or U.S. soldier to discuss PTSD. If the producers were able to fit in dysthymia, I'm sure they might have been able to throw in a story about a soldier who struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts stemming out of PTSD. Considering all the stories coming out of the VA, it's rather relevant. It would have been more interesting than the Jane Pauley segment. But I'll get to that in a minute.

As I listened to the narrator, I couldn't help but wonder what alternate perspectives could have popped up. For what it was, I fear none. This was a Depression 101 show — a program designed to either get people to fight against fear and stigma and get help or to open the eyes of loved ones to this debilitating disorder. I'm not sure how to slip in an opposing view on medication from a doctor without confusing or scaring people away. What would Healy or Breggin say that would encourage people to seek appropriate care?

Holistic or natural treatment was not mentioned. It's not mainstream and it's not recommended by most doctors as first-line therapy. I would have been surprised had something been said about it.

The depression portion of bipolar disorder was briefly discussed in Hart's story then Pauley added commentary about her personal experience in the remaining 22 minutes of the program.

Pauley appears at the end of the show promising a "candid conversation" on the topic. The three experts: Drs. Charney, Duckworth, and Primm sit and smile politely as Pauley rattles on occasionally about herself. Some people might find her exchange endearing and personal. After the first 3 minutes, I found it annoying. As a journalist, I wish she would have taken the impartial observer approach rather than the "intimate discussion" approach. In my opinion, she seemed to have dominated the "discussion."

It ended up being a Q&A with each doctor. Her questions were focused and direct. I expected a little bit of an exchange between doctors, talking not only about the pros of medication and treatment like ECT and VNS but also the cons. (Should I apologize for being optimistic?) Charney interjected into the conversation maybe once or twice but was only to offer an assenting opinion. Primm spoke least of everyone on the panel. I think she was placed on the show solely to represent diversity.

There were no "a recent study said…" or "critics say such-and-such, how do you address that?" It was a straightforward emphasis on encouraging people to get help or for those suffering to get treatment. Pauley's segment didn't discuss any negatives (not with the medical director of NAMI there!). The closest the entire 2 hours gets to any cons is with ECT shock treatment and giving medication to growing children. The childhood medication thing isn't dwelt on. The basic gist is: Doctors don't understand how medication works in children but are working on trying to understand it and improve its efficacy.

Forgive me for being negative. The point of the program was designed to give hope to those suffering. Instead, it just made me feel even worse. Thoughts raced through my head: "Well, if this doesn't work, then it's on to that. And if that medication doesn't work then I'll probably be prescribed this therapy, and if that doesn't work, then I'm treatment-resistant at which point, I'll have to do…"

I hope the program does what it's designed to do and that's to get those suffering with depression to seek appropriate care. The one upside is that talk therapy was stressed. I'm a huge proponent of talk therapy myself. Let me know what you thought of the show if you were able to catch it.

In the meantime, this depressed girl is going to cure herself for the night by going to bed.

P.S. Is it really fact that depression is a disease?

Mental health parity bill

I haven’t posted anything on legislation that relates to mental health care so it’s about time I did.

On March 6, the House approved the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act, a mental health parity bill that will require most medical insurance companies to provide better treatment for mental illnesses akin to what they do for physical illnesses. This is a significant move considering that insurers who cover mental health treatment can currently do one of two things: make patients pay for the bulk of the cost or place limits on treatment. The Senate also passed a similar bill in September 2007. Here’s what both pieces of legislation would do:

Both bills would outlaw health insurance practices that set lower
limits on treatment or higher co-payments for mental health services
than for other medical care.

Typical annual limits include 30 visits to a doctor or 30 days of
hospital care for treatment of a mental disorder. Such limits would no
longer be allowed if the insurer had no limits on treatment of
conditions like cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

As a result, the cost of group health insurance premiums likely will go up. However, the bills do not apply to businesses with 50 employees or less or individual insurance.

According to the NYTimes, President Bush initially endorsed mental health parity but came out opposing the current bill because it “would effectively mandate coverage of a broad range of diseases.” Technically, he’s right.

Under the bill, if an insurer chooses to provide mental health
coverage, it must “include benefits” for any mental health condition
listed in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual
of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association.

The protections of the House bill apply to people who need treatment for alcohol and drug abuse, as well as mental illness.

Covering a broad range of conditions is a step forward, but I realize if group insurers are forced to pay for all conditions listed in the DSM, I can see why premiums would go up. It wouldn’t surprise me if costs increased significantly. No one likes to hear this but if people want better mental health coverage, they need to be willing to pay for it. For those who suffer with mental illnesses, it’s certainly worth the cost.

(By the way, only 47 Republicans joined the 221 Democrats in helping to pass the measure. It has nothing to do with the overall importance of the bill but it was a little annoyance that I had to throw in here. Grr.)

Blogs around the way

I’m catching up on reading my fellow bloggers’ posts (see Blogroll to the right), so if you’re not reading their site already, I’d encourage you to do so. Below  are some posts that caught my attention. Some might be a little dated.

Gianna at Bipolar Blast: Has a video up of Gwen Olsen, an ex-pharma rep who says that pharmaceutical companies aren’t in the  business of curing but in the business of "disease maintenance and symptom management." It’s nothing new but here are two quotes that caught my attention:

"And what I’m saying is provable is that the pharmaceutical industry doesn’t want to cure people. You need to understand specifically when we’re talking about psychiatric drugs in particular that these are drugs that encourage people to remain customers of the pharmaceutical industry. In fact, you will be told if you’re given a drug such as an anxiolytic, or an antidepressant, or an antipsychotic drug, that you may be on the drug for the rest of your life. And very frequently, people find that they are on the drug for a very long period of time, if not permanently, because they’re almost impossible to get off of. Some of them can have very serious withdrawal symptoms – most of them can have extremely serious withdrawal symptoms if they’re stopped cold turkey – but some people experience even withdrawal symptoms when they try to titrate or they try to eliminate the drug little by little, day after day."

"We have got to start making the pharmaceutical industry accountable for their actions and for the defective products they’re putting on the market. It won’t be long before every American is affected by this disaster and we need to be aware of what the differences are between diseases between disorders and between syndromes. Because if it doesn’t have to be scientifically proven, if there are no tests, if there are no blood tests, CAT scans, urine tests, MRIs – if there is nothing to document that you have disease, then you in fact, do not have a disease, you have a disorder and it has been given and has been diagnosed pretentiously and you need to get yourself educated and understand that there are options and those options are much more effective than drugs."

I’ve always wondered why doctors don’t run tests to diagnose any psychiatric disorders. From NIMH:

Research indicates that depressive illnesses are disorders of the brain. Brain-imaging technologies, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), have shown that the brains of people who have depression look different than those of people without depression. The parts of the brain responsible for regulating mood, thinking, sleep, appetite and behavior appear to function abnormally. In addition, important neurotransmitters–chemicals that brain cells use to communicate–appear to be out of balance. But these images do not reveal why the depression has occurred.

If MRIs have shown that the people with depression have a part of the brain that functions abnormally then why isn’t it standard for all people diagnosed with depression to have an MRI done to confirm this? I have one of two hypotheses:  it’s too expensive to get an MRI done for each person and that insurance won’t pay for it or the abnormal functioning cannot be detected in the brain of every depressed person.  Therefore, is major depressive disorder really a made-up diagnosis?

Read the rest of this entry »

Loose Screws Mental Health News

"Can an antipsychotic drug from the 1950s be paired with a 1980s antibiotic to shrink 21st-century tumors?"

That's the first line from the NYT's recent article on biotech companies mixing two unrelated generic drugs to treat medical problems. Alexis Borisy, the executive of CombinatoRx, is spearheading the movement to mix and match two different generic drugs in the hopes that the combo will cure or effectively treat a disease that may be unrelated to the drugs' initial purposes.

"Orexigen, in creating its obesity drug Contrave, took a treatment used for drug and alcohol addiction and combined it with an antidepressant sometimes used to help people quit smoking." (My guess is that the antid was Zyban.)

It's a nice concept, but I'd hate to see risk of side effects doubled. One med can be a doozy; coupled with another could turn out to be problematic.


More from the NYT: Pharmaceutical companies pay psychiatrists (to push their products) more than doctors in any other specialty.

"For instance, the more psychiatrists have earned from drug makers, the more they have prescribed a new class of powerful medicines known as atypical antipsychotics to children, for whom the drugs are especially risky and mostly unapproved."

The bipolar child paradigm.

Vermont officials disclosed Tuesday that drug company payments to psychiatrists in the state more than doubled last year, to an average of $45,692 each from $20,835 in 2005. Antipsychotic medicines are among the largest expenses for the state’s Medicaid program.

Over all last year, drug makers spent $2.25 million on marketing payments, fees and travel expenses to Vermont doctors, hospitals and universities, a 2.3 percent increase over the prior year, the state said.

The number most likely represents a small fraction of drug makers’ total marketing expenditures to doctors since it does not include the costs of free drug samples or the salaries of sales representatives and their staff members. According to their income statements, drug makers generally spend twice as much to market drugs as they do to research them.

Doesn't the last sentence make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside? It's great to know that getting people to use drugs are more important to these companies than making sure these drugs are safe to use. Yeah, yeah, I know, it's a company and companies are only out to make profits. Whatever kind of optimist is in me wants to believe that maybe there's one doctor out there who is more motivated by helping others than by pharma-backing money. But I'm only a slight optimist.