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Tag: Mental Health

Safe Skyping: The Evolving Doctor-Patient Relationship


Skype and videoconferencing have surpassed the tipping point of consumer adoption. Grandparents Skype with grandchildren living far, far away. Soldiers converse daily with families from Afghanistan and Iraq war theatres. Workers streamline telecommuting by videoconferencing with colleagues in geographically distributed offices.

In the era of DIY’ing all aspects of life, more health citizens are taking to DIY’ing health — and, increasingly, looking beyond physical health for convenient access to mental and behavioral health services.

The Online Couch: Mental Health Care on the Web is my latest paper for the California HealthCare Foundation. Among a range of emerging tech-enabled mental health services is videoconferencing, for which there is a growing roster of choices for platforms that market a variety of features beyond pure communications.

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The Heart’s Content

The field of medicine has long focused on how negative psychological functioning is associated with disease – for example, how anxiety and depression increase the risk of heart attacks.

Health, however, is more than the mere absence of disease. In an article published this week in the Psychological Bulletin, my colleague Laura Kubzansky and I demonstrate that positive psychological well-being – which includes feeling optimistic, happy, satisfied, and purposeful – is beneficial for cardiovascular health.

In an investigation of more than 200 studies, we found that these psychological assets are associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. This relationship was present regardless of a person’s age, socioeconomic status, smoking status, or body mass index.

Moreover, positive psychological well-being seems to be connected to better cardiovascular outcomes because people with greater well-being tend to engage in healthier behaviors like exercising and have healthier biological function like low cholesterol. These findings align with the American Heart Association’s recent emphasis on ideal cardiovascular health, which it defines as more than the absence of risk factors.

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Does Anybody Want to Pay for Depression Treatment?

Imagine for a moment you are suffering from an illness that makes you feel like your soul has been run over by an angry defensive lineman, a disease that interferes with your desire to sleep, eat and make love. Oh, and this illness will continue to make you feel this way for the rest of your life. How much would you be willing to pay for a treatment makes you feel normal again?

My colleagues and I posed that question to a nationally representative sample of more than 700 Americans  and we discovered something troubling—people’s willingness to pay for medical interventions depends in large part on whether the illness in question is “physical” or “mental.”  People are much less willing to part with money to treat mental illnesses, even after accounting for the perceived severity of those same illnesses. Our article—“What’s It Worth?”—is available online at the Journal of Psychiatric Services.

Let me tell you a bit more about our study. We described a handful of illnesses to people and asked them to tell us, in effect, how bad each one would be to experience. For instance, we describe type 2 diabetes to people, and told them that it was uncomplicated by any other medical problems. People thought that would be pretty hard on their quality of life. We also described below-the-knee amputation, and they thought that would be even worse than diabetes. We described severe blindness, which only leaves one able to distinguish shadows.  People thought that one was worse than either of the first two problems.

We also described a case of moderately severe depression to people, a level bad enough to cause the victims to “feel sad and downhearted a lot of the time.” The description went on to explain that it would make people “feel like a failure” and lose interest in food and sex. Trust me, it was a thorough and devastating picture of how depression can affect people’s lives.  Indeed, people thought it was horrendous, at least as bad as any of the physical illnesses we described.

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Using Laws to Help Solve the Public Health Crisis of Mental Illness

May is Mental Health Month, a good time to remember the ten million adult Americans who suffer from a serious mental illness such as depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia.  Without proper treatment, psychiatric disorders put an enormous strain on affected individuals, family members and on society at large.

In the mid-1950s, state mental hospitals housed about a half a million people with mental illness. Many held patients against their will for decades in understaffed and deteriorating wards.

Today, most of those hospitals have been shuttered; the ones remaining hold fewer than 50,000 patients.

Taking people out of psychiatric institutions would have marked an extraordinary leap in social progress, if only it had been accompanied by a proportionate and continuing public investment in community-based mental health care. Instead, we now have a public system of mental health care that is fragmented and grossly underfunded.Continue reading…

American Healthcare X

“A decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization.”
~Samuel Johnson

“Joe” has been on the streets now for two months. He’s 35, unmarried, and diagnosed with chronic schizophrenia since age 19. His illness is difficult to manage, even with regular medication, and Joe is subject to hallucinations telling him to “fight off the evil ones”. Like most people with psychiatric disorders, Joe has never been violent—but when his illness is not well-controlled, he can become loud and belligerent.

Despite his many tries at holding down a job, the economic downturn and his worsening psychosis have left Joe jobless and homeless.  Joe’s family thinks he is “faking” his symptoms and they are “fed up” with him. They have refused to take him in or help him with his medical care. Joe has no friends willing to help him and survives on the streets by panhandling and dropping in at soup kitchens. The local shelters won’t accept Joe, because he is “too agitated.” Joe sleeps in alleyways, or, when lucky, in ATM stations. In the past month, he’s been beaten up twice by members of youth gangs.  Recently,  Joe was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, requiring daily medication and monitoring. Joe says he doesn’t want “charity”, and would like to work again, but doesn’t see how he can.

“Joe” represents many patients I’ve cared for during nearly 30 years of medical practice, and typifies thousands of Americans with severe mental illness.   In my previous blog entitled, “The Libertarian Mind”, I posed this question: what is the moral responsibility of federal and state government to help care for people like Joe? I argued that the Libertarian Party platform—calling for the abolition of “the entire social welfare system”, including food stamps—is neither humane nor compassionate.

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