Sunday, February 4, 2018

Melancholy and Depression in Paintings

University of Calgary Professor Peter Toohey has produced a fascinating collection images of depression and melancholy in art, which is available to see at his blog, which you can see by clicking here. He is also interested in other emotions, such as boredom and has collections of images for those too. This gallery presents many themes connected to depression through art, including geometry, which is interesting, but there are also religious and musical themes. It is a very interesting experience to scroll through these images.

There are several other interesting collections on this same theme:  click here.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Major Depression Epidemiology in Canada

Traditionally, information about psychiatric epidemiology (including the patterns of major depression in Canada) has come from national surveys, such as the two major surveys conducted by Statistics Canada on mental health. One of these was conducted in 2002 and another in 2012. However, a lot of information is available from general health surveys too - and of course from other data sources. The challenge when there are bits and pieces of information available from different sources is to be able to synthesize this information in a meaningful way. Fortunately, there are good statistical tools available for this task. Many of the posts in this blog have described specific results from these data synthesis strategies. In 2015 I presented an update of some of these results at a conference sponsored by Canada's Research Data Centres. The presentation is available on Youtube, if you would like to see it, please click here.

This supplements early summaries (including an earlier one that is recorded on Youtube also, to see it click here). A more formal summary of some of the basic descriptive epidemiology has been published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, here.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Major Depression and Secondhand Smoke Exposure

Epidemiologically, the association between smoking and common mental disorders is well characterized, it has been consistently observed in population-based studies. I don't think that the association has been taken very seriously. This is a shame because the settings in which the common mood and anxiety disorders are managed are well situated to help people quit smoking. A recent meta-analysis of studies of smoking cessation that included mental health outcome measures indicated that improvements that follow smoking cessation resemble those of antidepressant medications (when quantified as effect sizes) [1]. This challenges the perceptions that are gained by mental health professionals and people who smoke - which is that smoking makes them feel better, something that is undoubtedly true in the short term during nicotine withdrawal. Over the longer term, it appears that smoking cessation leads to improvements in mental health. Mental health professionals may have a tendency to assume that people smoke to self-medicate their symptoms and because of this assumption may have neglected to energetically tackle smoking cessation. Another angle is that of secondhand smoke exposure. Secondhand smoke inhalation has many of the adverse biological effects of smoking, which include things like increased markers of inflammation [2] but it is unlikely that people would inhale secondhand smoke for self-medication purposes. We recently looked at whether secondhand smoke exposure is associated with major depression in the general population of Canada - and found that it is strongly and consistently associated [3].

There is increasing evidence that smoking cessation should be a component of psychiatric treatments, and clinicians should be aware that secondhand smoke exposure may be something that contributes to poor outcomes among their patients. People who've struggled with depression should seek to quit - it is short term pain for long-term gain. They should also avoid secondhand smoke "like the plague."

1.  Taylor, G., McNeill, A., Girling, A., Farley, A., Lindson-Hawley, N., Aveyard, P., 2014. Change in mental health after smoking cessation: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ 348, pp. g1151

2.  Jefferis, B.J., Lowe, G.D., Welsh, P., Rumley, A., Lawlor, D.A., Ebrahim, S., Carson, C., Doig, M., Feyerabend, C., McMeekin, L., Wannamethee, S.G., Cook, D.G., Whincup, P.H., 2010. Secondhand smoke (SHS) exposure is associated with circulating markers of inflammation and endothelial function in adult men and women. Atherosclerosis 208, pp. 550-556


Friday, March 17, 2017

Decision Support Tools for People with Depression

For years decision support tools have been available for certain diseases, but not usually for mental health. However, there has recently been an emergence of some on-line calculators for supporting important clinical decisions such as "should I take an antidepressant" and "should I stop my antidepressant." The extent of evidence underpinning the decision support is difficult to discern, but these tools are interesting because they walk a person though a decision making process, soliciting ratings from the decision-maker to inform the final decision.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Chronic Conditions and Major Depression

When I was training (many years ago) in Psychiatry, all of the textbooks used to have long lists of medical conditions that could "cause" depression. The idea was that such lists would serve as a reminder that physical causes should be considered when assessing patients. For example, if there was a reason to suspect hypothyroidism, then that patient's thyroid should be checked. However, in current times this way of thinking - that depression would be distinguished as being "caused" by a physical OR a psychological cause seems very simplistic. Certainly, there are physical mechanisms that could link some chronic conditions to depression, but every chronic condition can have psychological and social implications too. Depression likely arises as a result of the multiple contributing causes in every case, not a different single cause in different cases. We recently conducted an analysis of national survey data to look at patterns of association between major depressive episodes and various chronic medical conditions. The meta-analysis (published here) uncovered three previously undescribed patterns of association. First, we found that most conditions are more strongly associated with depression in younger people. This effect was most prominent for high blood pressure and cancer. I believe that this probably indicates that developing such a condition is more stressful and threatening for a younger than older person. This is of course mere speculation. This was not a universal pattern. Migraine was an exception: the strength of association increased with age, especially in men. Second, especially for conditions predominantly affecting older age groups (arthritis, diabetes, back pain, cataracts, effects of stroke and heart disease) an epidemiological occurrence called confounding (by age) was evident. Because depression prevalence diminishes with age, and because these conditions affect older people, statistical adjustments were needed to see the true association. Finally, a surprising result was that thryoid disease, long considered the "classical" physical cause of depression, was only weakly associated with depression, and only in women. Epilepsy, had a unique pattern than didn't depend on age or sex. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Major Depression is More Common in More Northerly Latitudes in Canada

Major depression is thought to be more common in the winter than the summer months in Canada (e.g. follow this link), and changing circadian patterns are believed to have a role in this. It has sometimes been suspected that there would be a north-south latitude gradient as well. However, the small number of studies that have looked at this have failed to find an association, see Partonen et al. and Grimaldi et al.  Using data from many large scale Canadian surveys, were able to examine this association with a much larger sample size than was previously possible. These surveys included a measure of past year major depressive episodes called the Composite International Diagnostic Interview, Short Form and by linking to postal code files we were able to determine the approximate latitude of each respondent. A small gradient was found, with more northerly latitudes having a higher prevalence. A link to be the abstract is available here. It is possible that the etiology of such depression is related to factors such as sunlight exposure or shifting circadian patterns with more northerly latitudes. Of course, the difference could also be due to social determinants. Additional studies will be needed to determine this, but with adjustment for many potential determinants (age, sex, marital status, income, education) the association persisted. These results may contain clues to understanding the causes of depression more clearly, but they certainly also have implications for planning health services in more northerly places.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Major depression is more prevalent in urban areas of Canada

Understanding how depression prevalence varies by person, place and time variables can help to plan for services and also generate hypotheses for future research. With respect to planning services an important question is whether there is more depression in urban or rural areas. The evidence so far has been mixed, with a few studies finding an association and others not. A recent analysis of data from a series of Canadian Community Health Surveys was able to incorporate a larger number of observations than any previous study and to settle the issue. The answer is that depression prevalence is about 20% higher in urban areas. This is not a large difference. Some risk factors such as childhood adversities are associated with an approximate doubling (100% increase) in prevalence. Indeed the modest effect of urban living probably explains the previously inconsistent literature. Analyses of individual surveys probably lacked power to detect it. However, from the point of view of planning services, a 18% difference is not trivial. Why would the prevalence be higher in urban areas? There are many possible explanations. One is that the environment there may convey a higher risk of becoming depressed (aka a higher incidence of depression), however, a longer duration of depressive episodes or lower mortality (e.g. due to suicide) in urban areas could also explain it. Finally, migration of depressed people from rural to rural areas is another possible reason for the difference. This work has been published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, a link to the abstract is available here.