The 10% of people worldwide who will experience some form of depression in their lifetime are very fortunate that many treatment options are available today, but not everyone responds to them in the same way. Online Depression Support Communities medications and psychotherapy just don’t bring it down for some people.
Now a fascinating form of treatment is gaining momentum and could change the way we think about treating mental disorders.
A Brief Overview of the Nature of Depression
Many people wonder why researchers are looking for advanced and outright risky therapies to alleviate the symptoms of depression, so before I get into the details, I’d like to take a moment to tell you some of the lesser-known facts about the disorder.
First of all, there are many degrees of depression. Some people experience it in response to traumatic events and feel overwhelmed for days. Some people deal with occasional attacks that affect them for a couple of weeks or a month.
But the major depression we’re talking about here is different. It is permanent and can last for many years or even a lifetime. It is characterized by sadness, low self-esteem, and loss of interest in activities that are normally enjoyable and can disrupt many aspects of a person’s daily life. It may also include thoughts of suicide or self-harm. In severe cases, people may not be able to socialize, work, or even take care of themselves.
While antidepressants are very often effective in treating these symptoms, some people experience treatment-resistant depression for which no treatment seems to help. The technology discussed in this article is important because it can help people with this type of depression, which is very damaging and resistant to conventional treatments.
If you want more information about depression, you can start by checking out these five websites for depression and bipolar support.
deep brain stimulation
One of the most interesting treatments for depression currently being tested is deep brain stimulation, in which a gentle electrical current is applied to certain parts of the brain that are involved in mood regulation. This stimulation in many cases results in a profound antidepressant effect, allowing some people who have lived with debilitating depression to continue their lives.
Major depression is not the only condition for which deep brain stimulation is prescribed; it is also used to treat symptoms of Parkinson’s, Tourette’s, epilepsy, and chronic pain with varying degrees of success.
The mechanical and electrical principles behind this stimulation are actually quite simple; small electrodes are inserted into the brain through holes drilled in the skull. These electrodes are driven by a small device, much like a pacemaker, that is implanted elsewhere in the patient’s body, such as under the skin on the chest. This device generates pulses that are transmitted through wires to the electrodes.
The device can also be used to turn electrical current on and off. Because the system can be disturbed by magnetic fields, it is convenient to turn off the patient and turn the current back on.
Interestingly, scientists still don’t fully understand how deep brain stimulation works and how it causes the effects it has.
Deep brain stimulation for depression
Despite a number of controversies (which we’ll talk about in a moment) and no matter how little doctors understand the mechanisms of deep brain stimulation, it is clear that, at least in some cases, it works wonders. In an interview with the Huffington Post earlier this year, Brandy Ellis said that the implantation of the stimulator has changed her life:
Now that I’ve weathered this episode and had surgery, I’ve got a new me. I change my behavior, beliefs, thoughts and feelings. I create a new life based on what I value because my goal was never to return to the life I had before. I am given the opportunity to apply all the tools I have received from therapy in the hope that they will help me become more effective. Now that I have an implant, I have all the options.
And there are others who have said similar things. You can read an excellent first-person account of the pain of depression and the hope that an effective deep brain stimulant brought to Liss Murphy, a Boston woman, at CommonHealth WBUR. And there are a number of others.
The evidence goes beyond the first person. Last year, a German team tried a treatment for deep brain stimulation-induced depression and found that six out of seven patients’ symptoms improved «significantly and quickly». This particular study used electrical currents to target the reward system of the brain. A number of other studies have come to similar conclusions.
But not everyone is convinced.
Many people are skeptical about the effectiveness of these treatments, and for good reason. First of all, while some studies have shown significant improvements in participants, some have shown the treatment to be just as effective as more standard, less invasive treatments. And if such a risky, complex and expensive treatment as implanting electrodes in the brain is no more effective than prescribing drugs, there is no reason to continue to study it.
Let’s understand what «risk» means. Any procedure that involves drilling holes in the skull will be risky. While neurosurgeons are really good at what they do and take all the necessary precautions, there will always be some risks, such as infections caused by implanted equipment or bleeding in the brain. For the most part, the surgeries are safe. , , but the risk adds another factor why some people are skeptical about the treatment.
Beyond the cost/benefit analysis of the procedure, there is the question of whether we have studied it enough. Many of the studies used only a small subset of participants, and some were not properly performed in a scientific, controlled manner with placebo and double blinds.
With all the conflicting positive and negative results, it is difficult to say what the future holds for such treatment. That being said, medical technology is constantly improving, and with better goal-oriented and analytical abilities, it seems likely that the effectiveness of this treatment is likely to increase.