Samantha is a 29-year-old Caucasian female who came to see you with concerns about depression and dementia risk. When you inquired as to her chief complaint at the initial assessment, she reported that she has struggled with depressed mood for the past three years, but was now seeking care because she had read about research linking depression in adulthood to the later development of Alzheimer’s dementia, a condition her mother was experiencing. She was enrolled in a Ph.D. program in political science at a nearby university, having completed her undergraduate degree in history at a top-flight college. She reported that she began to feel depressed about three years ago, after she found that her fiancé was romantically involved with another woman, and he broke off their engagement. When she first learned of this, she initially had reacted with great anger and volatility (“I was out of control”), and threw all the pictures she had of the ex-fiancé out the window of her apartment, into a dumpster below. She reported that this was rapidly followed by symptoms of sadness; fatigue; sleep disturbance with spending 12-14 hours/day in bed with interrupted sleep; ruminative thoughts around her ex-fiancé’s affair with a mixture of anger, guilt, and dejection; increased appetite with 30 lbs of weight gain. She reported no periods without symptoms since this began after the break-up.
At this point in your evaluation, the diagnosis which seems most appropriate for this patient would be
|A.1_____||Major Depressive Disorder, single episode|
|A.2_____||Adjustment Disorder, related to learning of her ex-fiancé’s infidelity|
|A.3_____||Substance induced mood disorder|
|A.4_____||Bipolar disorder, depressed phase|
As you inquired more about the end of her engagement to her ex-fiancé, she reported that she engaged in brief counseling through student psychological services at her school, and was able to gain a better perspective on the events. The couple’s mutual friends had rallied around her, and expressed a consensus that her ex-fiancé was “a jerk and a loser” for having cheated on her and breaking off the engagement. While all this had helped her “try to put this in the past,” the feelings of pervasive sadness had continued to intensify over time. She reported that she had continued to find comfort and support with her circle of friends before, during, and after the break-up, and that she had actually tried dating six months ago, but couldn’t find anyone suitable for a long-term relationship.
She denied any prior periods in which she experienced manic or hypomanic symptoms, obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviors, hallucinatory experiences, or delusional thoughts
As you inquired more about her early life history, you learn that the patient’s childhood recollections of her mother revolve around her mother being “in bed, crying a lot, and being ‘out of it’ a bit,” which in hindsight may have been depressive episodes. The patient was largely left to her own to set her schedule, and frequently would stay up late if she was reading something riveting. She did well academically, but did relate an instance in which she had to go to the junior high school principal because “I was too enthusiastic about a project and the teacher freaked out.” She is the elder of two sisters; her sibling has had issues with cocaine use, but, as of this evaluation visit, the sister has been abstinent for nine months after spending time in a residential care facility in the midwest.
In other aspects of family history, the patient’s 62-year-old mother has a history suggestive of past depressive episodes and more recently a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. The neurodegenerative disorder came to light after she “got lost” driving in town, and called “911” in a panicky state; she was evaluated in an emergency room and then by a geriatric psychiatrist as an outpatient. Reportedly she had “some sort of radioactive brain scan” that showed “a ‘classic’ pattern for Alzheimer’s.” Her maternal grandparents died in a plane accident before the patient was born, and she knows little of their medical history; her paternal grandmother and grandfather are both in their 80s and are described as alive, well, and living independently in their own home.
In reviewing her medical history, the patient denied having any major medical conditions and reported one instance of a broken arm as a child when she fell from a tree she had been climbing. When you evaluated her, she reported taking no medications and that she had no drug allergies.
The patient reported never smoking tobacco or using drugs of abuse. She reported occasional consumption of wine, estimated as two or three glasses of wine on a weekend over dinner with friends.
On exam, she was pleasant and generally cooperative with the interview, casually attired in sweatpants, and wearing a baseball cap to conceal some what unkempt hair. There was mild psychomotor slowing noted. Eye contact was adequate. Speech was of slowed rate and volume, with slightly monotonous prosody. Affect was constricted, stable, and sad, with Veraguth’s folds and Darwin’s “omega sign.” (1) Mood was endorsed as being “unhappy” most of the time. Thought process was linear and coherent. Thought content was without present or past suicidal or homicidal ideation or intent, delusions or hallucinations. Cognitively she was awake, alert, and oriented to self, place, date, and circumstances. Memory registration was intact with 3/3 stimuli, and recall after delay was 2/3 items spontaneously but with considerable mental effort. Presidents were recalled accurately for the past five office-holders. Similarities were abstract. Insight was good, in that she recognized being depressed. Judgment currently was good, as evidenced by her seeking care voluntarily.
In light of the additional information gained in your evaluation, the diagnosis which seems most appropriate for this patient would be
|B.1_____||Major Depressive Disorder, single episode|
|B.2_____||Adjustment Disorder, related to learning of her fiancé’s infidelity|
|B.3_____||Substance induced mood disorder|
|B.4_____||Bipolar disorder, depressed phase|
After discussion of the options for treatment for her depressive episode, the patient accepted your recommendation for treatment with an antidepressant agent. She voiced particular concerns about additional weight gain and sexual dysfunction, as “deal breaker” side effects. Although this would be her first time with a biological treatment for a psychiatric disorder, she has read a lot online and had some discussions with friends.
In light of this discussion, which treatment recommendation(s) is/are both evidence-based and respectful of her expressed preferences and concerns about side effects?
|C.4_____||Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS)|
After you described the potential risks, anticipated benefits, and likely side effects of treatment options, the patient preferred bupropion, and so you initiated a treatment trial with that agent. Over the following 12 weeks, her mood improved along with her sleep, energy, and ruminations.
She continued on this medication for another four months under your direction, when she reported at a follow-up visit that her mental energy and motivation were not as good as they initially had been after starting treatment. While she expressed eagerness to try to address these symptoms with medication adjustments, she voiced concerns about acceptability of the side effects of several options you initially recommended as evidence-based practices (e.g. sexual dysfunction with SSRIs, metabolic syndrome and tardive dyskinesia with antipsychotic agents). She did not endorse anxiety or insomnia, but rather sought something more likely to be experienced as activating than sedating.
Given these changes in clinical situation and the patient’s preferences, which medication(s) would you consider(for use within the labeled indications or for off-label use)?
The patient pointedly expressed her wish to try the use of a psychostimulant agent, like methylphenidate, because a cousin on her mother’s side who also struggled with depression had benefitted from the addition of that drug to an antidepressant.
After discussing the limitations of the research literature on psychostimulants as augmentation agents, and the risk-benefit profile of this off-label use of a medication, you and she agreed to a trial of methylphenidate.
She returned after two weeks, reporting that not only was her mental focus was better, but that she felt “calmer” and “more peaceful” internally. She denied any insomnia, anxiety, restlessness, or agitation. In revisiting her past history, she reported additional detail about how in college, she had selected classes that offered take-home tests without time constraints because “I never did all that well on timed tests.” When asked to expand on her remarks, she reported that, even as a child, she had “followed her bliss” as her mother put it, and was raised in a fairly undisciplined environment in which she would “multitask” on a number of different projects simultaneously, flitting from one to another “whenever I got bored.” She reported that procrastination was a chronic problem beginning in elementary school. She also reported sometimes she “forgot” to do her homework at home, but would “power through it” during study-hall breaks or before classes.
While this strategy had worked sufficiently well for her through high school, she “hit a wall” in college and had abandoned her pursuit of premed studies “when I couldn’t get through the whole test in time.” She also loved the social sciences and history, and so transitioned easily to classes where she could write essays “on my own timetable.” Because her grades had never flagged, she had never been referred for evaluation for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) at college.
This discussion brought to light a history consistent with ADHD starting in childhood and persisting to the present, with specific symptoms of a history of difficulty sustaining attention, difficulty organizing tasks, making careless mistakes in schoolwork, failing to finish schoolwork, reluctance to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort, being easily distracted, and being forgetful in daily activities.
With additional titration of methylphenidate, the patient was able to complete her dissertation and its defense after being “stalled” for several years. She had also begun dating seriously.