An Experimental Depression Treatment Uses Electric Currents to Bring Relief by L. McClurg
Feb 6, 2022
by L. McClurg
After 40 years of fighting debilitating depression, Emma was on the brink.
“I was suicidal,” said Emma, a 59-year-old Bay Area resident. NPR is not using her full name at her request because of the stigma of mental illness. “I was going to die.”
Over the years, Emma sat through hours of talk therapy and tried numerous anti-depression medications “to have a semblance of normalcy.” And yet she was consumed by relentless fatigue, insomnia and chronic nausea.
Depression is the world’s leading cause of disability, partly because treatment options often result in numerous side effects or patients do not respond at all. And there are many people who never seek treatment because mental illness can carry heavy stigma and discrimination. Studies show untreated depression can lead to suicide.
Three years ago, Emma’s psychiatrist urged her to enroll in a (Link): study at Stanford University School of Medicine designed for people who had run out of options.
…The remedy was a new type of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) called “Stanford neuromodulation therapy.”
By adding imaging technology to the treatment and upping the dose of rTMS, scientists have developed an approach that’s more effective and works more than eight times faster than the current approved treatment.
A coil placed on top of Emma’s head created a magnetic field that sent electric pulses through her skull to tickle the surface of her brain. She says it felt like a woodpecker tapping on her skull every 15 seconds. The electrical current is directed at the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain that plans, dreams and controls our emotions.
“It’s an area thought to be underactive in depression,” said Nolan Williams, a psychiatrist and rTMS researcher at Stanford. “We send a signal for the system to not only turn on, but to stay on and remember to stay on.”
Williams says pumping up the prefrontal cortex helps turn down other areas of the brain that stimulate fear and anxiety. That’s the basic premise of rTMS: Electrical impulses are used to balance out erratic brain activity. As a result, people feel less depressed and more in control. All of this holds true in the new treatment — it just works faster.
A recent randomized control trial, published in The American Journal of Psychiatry, shows impressive results are possible in five days of treatment or less. Almost 80% of patients crossed into remission — meaning they were symptom-free within a month. This is compared to about 13% of people who received the placebo treatment.
…Stanford’s new delivery system may even outperform electroconvulsive therapy, which is the most popular form of brain stimulation for depression, but while quicker, it requires general anesthesia.
“This study not only showed some of the best remission rates we’ve ever seen in depression,” said Shan Siddiqi, a Harvard psychiatrist not connected to the study, “but also managed to do that in people who had already failed multiple other treatments.”
…Mark George, a psychiatrist and neurologist at the Medical University of South Carolina, agrees. He points to other similarly sized trials for depression treatments like ketamine, a version of which is now FDA-approved.
He says the new rTMS approach could be a game changer because it’s both more precise and kicks in faster than older versions.
You can read the rest of that article (Link): here
I had mentioned this treatment, or one similar to it, in a comment under an older post by some crank who claims to work in some capacity in the mental health profession – and she laughed at me – as if to say, there is no such thing… even though I found references to such remedies in web searches for “treatment resistant depression.”
I’m not a mental health professional, and yet, I was familiar with this content – but the crank? No, no she was not. Weird how someone can claim to work in a mental health related job and not be up to date on the latest treatments.
If you are someone with depression – and I had clinical depression myself for 35+ years – you can make choices for yourself, including, whether or not to consider getting this treatment mentioned in the article.
Having depression doesn’t make you incapable of making choices and changes in your life.
Having depression doesn’t excuse a person from seeking some kind of solution or help to the depression; and if you are a depressed adult and you feel too sluggish or overwhelmed to pick up a phone to call someone for help, you are still capable of asking a loved one or friend to book an appointment for you to see a doctor.
It remains your responsibility to seek help or treatment. Nobody else can do this for you.