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Latest News Around the Web

HHS Announces Increase In Young Adults With Health Insurance

ABC World News (12/14, story 4, 0:20, Sawyer) reported, “And there was an announcement from the White House today about the President’s healthcare reform. The government said 2.5 million young adults who were uninsured now have received health insurance because of that law, which allows children to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26.”

The CBS Evening News (12/14, story 5, 2:30, Pelley) reported, “Patient rights advocates like Ron Pollack of the nonprofit group Families USA call this an accomplishment because young adults will 19-25, are the most likely not to have health insurance.” Ron Pollack, Families USA: “This is a benefit for those people who are struggling to find a job or who are in an entry-level job and they can’t pay for health insurance and now they have the ability to stay on their parents’ policy until their 26th birthday.”

The Wall Street Journal (12/15, Radnofsky, Subscription Publication) quotes HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who said, “It shows what a big difference this law is already making in Americans’ lives.” According to Sebelius, without the option for additional coverage, insurance was a major factor in young adults’ career decisions, while others were “a car accident or a surprise diagnosis away from a lifetime of medical debt or worse.”

NIDA Survey Suggests Big Shift In Substance Abuse Among Adolescents

Television and print media provided extensive coverage of a government survey which indicated a change in substance-abuse habits among US adolescents.

NBC Nightly News (12/14, story 6, 1:05, Williams) reported that a study released on Wednesday provides a “new look…at teenage alcohol and drug use. According to this study, there’s been a big shift when it comes to substance abuse among high school-aged kids.”

The CBS Evening News (12/14, story 8, 0:30, Pelley) reported, “Marijuana use among teenagers has gone up four years in a row. In a survey, one out of every 15 high school students admitted using marijuana every day or almost daily. That’s the highest rate in 30 years.”

The Wall Street Journal (12/15, Randall, Subscription Publication) reports that the “Monitoring the Future” survey released Dec. 14 by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) also reveals that even as marijuana use is increasing, US adolescents are smoking fewer cigarettes and drinking far less alcohol.

Ask the Doctor: How do I respond to a hospitalized friend?


I have a friend who was hospitalized. When visiting someone who is having a break from reality (“they are trying to get me…”) do I play along with the fantasy or do I correct the person: “No there is no one out there doing that”.

It is frequently useless to correct the person and tedious to listen endlessly to the repetition of the same fantasy. You can often change the subject to something more immediate, e.g. “Food OK?”, “Making friends?”, “Plans when you leave?”, etc. Patients often are not able to tolerate visitors for very long periods of time during the acute turmoil and it is usually best to keep the visits short until the person reintegrates more and can carry on a conversation. The patient needs to be in control of who they see and when.

Ask the Doctor: Insomnia and Depression

Can Insomnia be a sign of depression?

Absolutely yes! Insomnia is a prominent part of the syndrome of clinical depression. Most typically it involves awakening in the morning before you’d like to and being unable to get back to sleep. Sometimes it also involves difficulty falling asleep, waking up in the middle of the night unable to get back to sleep, or less commonly — sleeping too much.

When a patient comes to any doctor, he or she usually comes with a symptom; say “cough”, or “insomnia.” Its the job of the doctor to look at the company which this symptom keeps, in order to discern a syndrome — or pattern of other symptoms. Cough, for example, may keep company with other symptoms like fever, or stuffy nose, or chest pain. Depending on the other symptoms, the fever could be the tip of the iceberg (or, as we say in medicine, the “presenting symptom”) of any number of syndromes — bronchitis, asthma, pneumonia, lung cancer, etc. The process of sorting this out in clinical medicine is called: a “differential diagnosis.”

Insomnia may be part of a variety of different syndromes, some medical, some psychiatric. So, its important to get it checked out. However, when it keeps company with some of the following symptoms, it is part of the syndrome known as “clinical depression:’

  • low mood or irritable mood
  • a change in appetite (up or down)
  • a change in weight (up or down)
  • a loss of interest in sex
  • low energy
  • difficulty concentrating
  • negative thoughts about one’s self
  • hopelessness
  • feelings of helplessness or ineffectiveness
  • blunted ability to experience pleasure in things that used to be pleasurable
  • thoughts of giving up on life
  • unexplained physical problems (bowel, back, headache)

This syndrome is pretty common. In fact, its one of the most important, and most treable , causes of insomnia. If this syndrome is present, merely using medication for sleep is NOT ENOUGH. It needs more extensive and more specific treatment.

The good news is that this syndrome, clinical depression, once identified is VERY treatable. The experts in treating it are psychiatrists who may use medication, or talk therapy, or often a combination of both, to treat it. Primary care physicians actually treat most of the simple cases –since there are far more of them than there are psychiatrists.

Whatever kind of doctor you go to, if you are having insomnia, get it checked out. Get a “differential diagnosis” and state-of-the-art treatment for whatever syndrome it represents.

Ask the Doctor: Antidepressants Not Working?

I don’t think my antidepressants are working. What should I do?

It is important to take an antidepressant for a long enough time, perhaps a month, before deciding whether it works. In general, all antidepressants have a similar rate of effectiveness but differ in the type and degree of side effects. This is true in a statistical sense, but research and clinical experience suggest that individuals may benefit from one antidepressant but not another. Increasing the dose may be the first thing to try, and if that fails it may be useful to switch to another antidepressant. Another option is to add a second medication that may augment the therapeutic effect of the antidepressant.

Unfortunately, a significant minority of patients do not benefit, or benefit only partially, from antidepressants. Sometimes this may be because the diagnosis is incorrect, and the patient has some problem other than a clinical depression. However, even when the diagnosis is correct, the medication may not work Psychotherapy is often as effective, or sometimes more effective, than medication. The depressed patient for whom medication is not the answer should be evaluated for the type of psychotherapy that may be the most appropriate for him or her.

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