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What I Learned At A Psychology Conference Aimed at Changing Health Care

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Elevate by Psych Congress took place March 8-10, 2019 in Boston, MA. This was one of many conferences of The Psychiatry and Behavioral Health Learning Network. This “transformative mental health education” conference was designed for early career mental health professional in various disciplines. This was my first time as an attendee and faculty. Although I am no longer “early career,” it was still beneficial for networking and encouragement to think outside of the box. As with most conferences, there were sessions on pharmacology but Elevate also focused on innovation. The goal was to get people to think of ways to move mental health care forward.

For psychopharmacology sessions, new and emerging treatments were highlighted. Evolving treatments for treatment-refractory depression focusing on GABA & opioid receptors were reviewed by Dr. Michael Thase. Dr. Rakesh Jain discussed the new class of medication, VMAT2 inhibitors, to treat tardive dyskinesia. Dr. Ian Melnick emphasized the improved outcomes from starting long-acting injectable antipsychotics for psychotic disorders early in treatment. Dr. Arwen Podesta discussed the various options for medication assisted treatment for opioid use disorders. Dr. Karl Doghramji reviewed medication and non-medication options, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, for insomnia. Dr. Jain reminded us of the importance of addressing cognitive, sexual, and weight symptoms of depression.

Sessions titled “Innovation Theater” or “Innovation Showcase” were reminders of the exciting treatments available for psychiatric disorders. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), adjunctive treatments for major depressive disorder, a new treatment for postpartum depression, treatment for binge eating disorder, and treatments for tardive dyskinesia were showcased.

Exciting sessions that focused on practice and lifestyle were well-received. In “Meet the Mentors," three psychiatrists, one psychologist, and one advanced practice registered nurse were interviewed to discuss how they chose their field, what they are doing outside of their field, and what they see for the future of their fields. Dr. Edward Kaftarian explained his transition from correctional psychiatry to telepsychiatry and the future of telepsychiatry. Dr. Steven Chan explored how the use of apps and other technology can allow us to be more efficient and less overworked. Dr. Bonnie Koo presented ways to reduce debt and secure our financial futures. Dr. Napoleon Higgins discussed various career paths and how to determine when to leave a position for other opportunities. Another exciting session was “What Would You Do?” with four case presentations with audience participation to discuss what could have been done differently in the case and how to treat certain diagnoses.

Keynote speakers on the first and final day of the conference were exceptional. John Elder Robison gave an overview of his book “Switched On: A Memoir of Brain Change and Emotional Awakening.” He underwent TMS to treat symptoms of his autism spectrum disorder and he discussed the positive and negative changes that occurred as a result. Kevin Hines survived a jump off the Golden Gate Bridge and has been an advocate for suicide prevention. After a presentation by Dr. Jill Harkavay-Friedman, Vice President of Research for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, he screened the documentary “Suicide: A Ripple Effect” which showed how his story has changed and saved lives.

The final day contained a dynamic presentation by Dr. J. Andrew Chacko, a psychiatrist and engineer, who taught about three phases of “Design Thinking” to build creativity and innovation. “Re-Think” was a series of TED-style talks about groundbreaking and unexpected ideas to examine challenges in mental health and inspire innovation to improve patient care. The most impactful for me was Dr. Manizeh Mirza-Gruber. She discussed how being in Hurricane Harvey changed her focus to compassion, acceptance, belief, gratitude and empathy. It was a reminder that even in tragedy, we can become better versions of ourselves and better physicians.

Elevate by Psych Congress is a great opportunity to meet others dedicated to changing mental health care, learn more about emerging treatments, and become excited about bringing changes to your organization or practice.

Danielle J. Johnson, MD, FAPA is a board-certified psychiatrist. Her interests include women's mental health and minority mental health. Dr. Johnson is co-author of the book "The Chronicles of Women in White Coats." Follow @drdanij on Instagram and Twitter. She is a 2018–2019 Doximity Author.

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