Crazy Psychiatric Treatments

As if some psychotropic meds out on the market aren’t bad enough, out from the archives of Neatorama is a post on 10 Mind-Boggling Psychiatric Treatments. Somehow Insulin-Coma Therapy made it to #1 and lobotomy was listed as #10. I don’t know if they were placed in order of craziness. I didn’t even read the text of most of the treatments. The graphics and headlines were enough to make me cringe.

(Hat Tip: Bob Thompson)

Celebrity Sensitivity: Kirsten Dunst

Kirsten Dunst I’m not a fan of Kirsten Dunst or her acting (but Interview with the Vampire was pretty good) but I have to give her sympathy if she was depressed enough to check into a hospital. Her admission comes toward the end of Depression Overawareness and Overmedication Week and May’s Mental Health Awareness Month.

In February of this year, Dunst checked into Cirque Lodge Treatment Center, a “posh facility” in Utah that has treated the likes of Eva Mendes (wouldn’t say) and Lindsay Lohan (substance abuse).

In any event, Dunst stayed low-key about her treatment for depression.

As for why she decided to talk about her struggles now, Dunst tells E!, “Now that I’m feeling stronger, I was prepared to say something … Depression is pretty serious and should not be gossiped about.”

(Does this count as gossiping?)

Dunst dealt with her depression allegedly by partying and engaging in “wild nights.” However, a supportive friend says that she had been struggling for quite a while.

“She’s been crying a lot lately, ” said the friend. “Everybody hits that bottom where you feel [so] scared that that one heavy night of partying can really wake you up. It’s good she’s getting herself help.”

I’m glad that she was able to get treatment. Although I still envy the “posh facility” part of it. Checking in to a hospital is never fun but I can only imagine that celebrities are treated comfortably. See it here.

(Hat tip: Gianna at Beyond Meds)

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?

Great editorial in NYTimes

The New York Times published a great editorial supporting a ban on much of the lavish treatment that doctors get from drug reps. If adopted by medical schools, restrictions would include:

  • Ban on personal gifts, industry-supplied foods and meals, free travel (not reimbursed for services), and payment for attending industry-sponsored meetings
  • Ban on ghostwriting, the practice of drug companies drafting an article and then getting a doc to slap his or her name on it making it look at though the doc actually wrote it
  • Drug samples would have to be submitted to a central pharmacy not individual doctors

The restrictions, however, end there. The editorial says the proposal goes far but not far enough.

Patients need to be assured that their doctors are prescribing what’s best for them, not what’s best for companies.

Can someone get a doctor to read this?

Loose Screws Mental Health News

I recently wrote about the MOTHERS Act and the unnecessary scare tactics surrounding it. A Dallas-Fort Worth TV station picked up on the story and provided a short one-sided view of the issue, continuing to purport that the bill is solely about drugging new moms. I don’t discount Ms. Philo’s terrible experience with her medication. In fact, I’d be against the act if its sole purpose was to force treatment on pregnant women – medicated or not. Again, I’d like to reiterate that the bill’s purpose is to educate moms about postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis – not to shove unnecessary pills down women’s throats.

If you have sleep apnea, your CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine may alleviate depression symptoms. My husband has sleep apnea and hasn’t been able to use the CPAP machine because of sinus problems. When he doesn’t use it (he hasn’t for a while), he’s noticeably moodier and prone to depressive symptoms. But then again, anyone who doesn’t get good sleep for several days is pretty moody.

Seroquel XRAstraZeneca (AZ) is going after Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and Novartis AG’s Sandoz unit after the two companies applied to make cheaper version of Seroquel available. AZ’s patent on Seroquel expires in 2011. The trial date for patent litigation is August 11. In the meantime, according to the Bloomberg report, the FDA is considering approval of Seroquel XR for bipolar depression and bipolar mania.

What is it about the U.K. that they seem to take pharma’s power more seriously than the U.S.? The UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) charged GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), the maker of Seroxat (Paxil in the U.S.), with not fully disclosing their clinical trial data that downplayed serious side effects such as increasing suicidal tendencies among those 18 years and younger. The MHRA also asserts that Seroxat didn’t alleviate depression as much as GSK’s initial data showed. GSK, of course, denied manipulating the data to show favorable results:

GSK denies withholding data, claiming the risks did not come to light until the results of nine studies were pooled.

The UK minister of public health, Dawn Primarilo, promised to address the issue of Big Pharma hiding negative clinical trial data.

“Notwithstanding the limitations that may exist in the law, pharmaceutical companies should disclose any information they have that would have a bearing on the protection of health,” she says.

In other news, I shouldn’t be a successful writer or novelist. The correlation between creative writers and suicide is ridiculously high. More than 70 well-known writers and poets have successfully committed suicide. How much more “unknown” writers and poets have as well?

(Image from Monthly Prescribing Reference)

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.)

Pregnancy is NOT a mental illness

I stumbled upon Yankee Cowgirl’s blog that mentioned Congress is working on the MOTHERS (Mom’s Opportunity to Access Health, Education, Research, and Support for Postpartum Depression) Act which would “strongly encourage pregnant women into mental health programs – that means drugs – to combat even mild depression during or after giving birth.”

She links to a column written by Byron J. Richards on newswithviews.com. He writes:

The Mothers Act is pending legislation that will indoctrinate hundreds of thousands of mothers into taking dangerous psych drugs.

He goes on to slam Big Pharma about how they control Congress and how mothers don’t need psych drugs for a natural birth process.

The Mothers Act (S. 1375: Mom’s Opportunity to Access Health, Education, Research, and Support for Postpartum Depression Act) has the net affect of reclassifying the natural process of pregnancy and birth as a mental disorder that requires the use of unproven and extremely dangerous psychotropic medications (which can also easily harm the child).

These are some serious accusations. I got pretty riled up myself and decided to see what Congress said in the bill.

Read the rest of this entry »

Mental health treatment for minorities substandard

Speaking of race, I stumbled upon Ephphatha, a blog from an African American woman looking to raise awareness of mental health in the African American community.

She linked to two News & Notes series on npr that focus on the lack of appropriate care to Blacks in the mental health community. This gets me thinking: If Blacks, how much more so other racial/ethnic minorities, e.g. Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, Indians, etc. Is it really true that Caucasians a.k.a. white Americans receive better mental health treatment than other races and ethnicities?

It appears so
.

2nd-generation Celexa, or TC-2216

Targacept is in the process of developing a “new class of [oral] drugs known as NNR (neuronal nicotinic receptor) Therapeutics.” They’re starting the first phase of a clinical trial called TC-2216 that targets depression and anxiety treatment.

“The trial is designed to evaluate the safety and tolerability of TC-2216 and to assess its pharmacokinetic profile. The trial is a double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover study, with sequential ascending single oral doses administered to healthy male volunteers.”

The next paragraph in the press release (basically) that I got this from goes on to explain that the new compound focuses in on the central nervous system and mood-regulating neurotransmitters, blah, blah, blah.

“In preclinical studies, TC-2216 showed greater potency than and anti-depressant effects comparable to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and tricyclics, which are commonly used treatments for depression, as well as anxiety-relieving effects.”

Because every new product in the clinical trial phase and has yet to receive FDA approval is better than everything currently out on the market. Of course.

“In November, the company announced positive top line results from a Phase II clinical trial of TRIDMAC, a treatment combination comprised of mecamylamine hydrochloride as an augmentation therapy to citalopram hydrobromide, in patients who did not respond adequately to citalopram alone. Mecamylamine hydrochloride binds non-selectively to various NNR subtypes, but there is a body of scientific evidence that suggests that its anti-depressant activity is derived through its antagonism at the alpha4beta2 NNR.”

What’s that mean? They’re basically working on Celexa II if people were treatment-resistant to the original Celexa. Like many other drug companies, they’re patenting a similar version of Celexa once Celexa’s eligible to become a generic brand.

“‘The results of our TRIDMAC trial not only substantiate the promise of the NNR mechanism in the treatment of depression and other mood disorders, but also further bolster our enthusiasm for the potential of TC-2216 said J. Donald deBethizy, Ph.D., Targacept’s President and Chief Executive Officer.’”

That’s a pretty bold statement for a company that’s just in Phase I of a clinical trial.

Loose Screws Mental Health News

Liz Spikol linked to this and I can’t believe I missed it: Poorer mental health for black Caribbeans.

“The longer Caribbean immigrants who are black stay in the United States, the poorer their mental health, according to a study.

Prior research has shown that black Caribbean immigrants differ from African-Americans in various measures of physical health, but little research has been done on differences in mental health.

‘What we found was that ethnicity matters a lot in the black population in the United States for mental health risk,’ [lead author David R.] Williams said.”

This is certainly a study that should yield interesting results. As a first-generation African-American with West Indian parents, I can definitely see the higher risks of mental health problems in my own family. Not only is it an ethnic problem, but it also is rooted in genetic causes. My maternal line has no history of mental illness (the DSM threw out homosexuality a while ago), but my paternal line has many cases of mental illness – almost all of them developed after immigrating to the U.S. From what I understand, my grandmother suffered from some kind of mental illness and out of her eight children, three of them developed mental illness, including my father.

I’m mainly interested to see what kind of effect this could have on first-, second-, and third-generation blacks of Caribbean ancestry and what correlations result from immigrant relatives who developed mental illnesses in the U.S.

Before leaving office, Gov. George Pataki signed a bill into law that requires commercial insurance policies to pay for mental health care just like care for physical illnesses. (Pataki has been slightly redeemed in the sight of a former New Yorker who suffered under his reign.)  Since this is news from Dec. 23, you might have to pay $4.99 to read the article, but as of Jan. 9, the article is still available for free. Read a few excerpts below:

“Most commercial policies already cover mental health treatment, which the governor said had helped allay his concerns about cost, and so do government programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

Business organizations – whose members pay for most health insurance – and insurance companies generally oppose these kinds of mandates. But they did not work against the mental health bill this year, after small employers were exempted and after coverage that would have mandated treatment for alcohol and drug addiction was taken out of the bill.

An employer with fewer than 50 workers could opt out, but the insurer would be required to offer a policy that covered mental illness. The law pledges that the state will develop a method to help small businesses pay for that coverage if they choose to buy it.

There were at least 17 other states that mandated some kind of mental health coverage, but not full parity with other health benefits.”

I'm glad that the state has offered to help small businesses pay for mental health coverage if employers choose to provide it. It would be difficult for a small business to pay for health insurance – let alone mental health! – for 50 employees or less. However, it's an important investment in employees that small businesses and large corporations can't afford to overlook.

As for treatment for substance abuse, the state is doing a major disservice to employees who struggle with these issues. More employees are likely to suffer from some kind of substance abuse problem and the lack of coverage for treatment is a step backwards. During my mental health treatment, I've noticed that mental health problems sometimes accompany substance abuse. If a patient can't obtain substance abuse coverage, then the entire problem isn't solved. I can only hope that an amendment mandating substance abuse coverage is added to the bill in the future.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention provides their take on the bill:

"The law requires insurance companies to cover 30 inpatient and 20 outpatient days of treatment for mental illness. Companies must fully cover "biologically-based mental illnesses" including major depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, anorexia and binge eating. Timothy's Law would also require coverage for children with attention deficit disorder, disruptive behavior disorders or disorders that include suicidal symptoms. The measure is expected to increase premiums about 3 percent and no more than 10 percent, while providing a much wider array of mental health services.

Timothy's Law took effect on New Year's Day and will last for three years. The Legislature will make a decision about continuing the law in 2009. New York is the 38th state to enact mental health parity."

Patient Responsibility

“An article on brain shocks from about.com linked to a statement at socialaudit.org.uk on venlafaxine withdrawal. It seems that when coming off of venlafaxine, it is best to use fluoxetine (Prozac) in conjunction with it. Somehow, Prozac’s effects can minimize or negate the side effects of Effexor allowing for an uneventful withdrawal. I’m seeing my psychiatrist later today and I might bring up the idea with him. He might think one of two things: a) I’m crazy (pun not intended) or b) I don’t know what I’m talking about. My guess is he’ll choose the latter of the two.

Unlike most patients, I know more about meds than ‘the average bear.’”

UPDATE: I asked my doctor about going on fluoxetine to offset the effect of venlafaxine withdrawal. He looked up, somewhat shocked, and said, “Yeah.” So then I pushed and said, “Well, I’d like 10 mg then.” lol. He wrote out a prescription for 10 mg of Prozac in addition to bumping me up from 150 mg to 200 mg of Lamictal. I took the fluoxetine (Prozac is now a generic drug) last night and it has offset the intensity of the brain shocks. I experience them but they are much more mild compared to yesterday when they were moderate to severe. Yesterday, I was barely able to drive; today, I drove nearly an hour to work on a somewhat urban road with good reflexes and almost normal cognitive functioning. I can only hope that the Prozac continues to aid my withdrawal issues. And I was happy to wake up this morning without wondering why I dreamt that I was in a department store with parrots singing Gwen Stefani’s “Wind It Up” and swinging like moneys instead of flying.

You get the idea: Effexor causes some strange dreams.

Read the rest of this entry »

Saturday Stats

"More than 80 percent of those who seeks treatment for clinical depression show improvement." – National Mental Health Association