Advances in the treatment of depression

recent article in The News-Sentinel offers new hope to the “15-25 percent of the 19 million Americans with depression” who do not respond to treatment using medication, psychotherapy, or electroshock therapy (ECT). While that estimate seems a little high to me (I would estimate that at least 90% of depressed patients eventually respond to medication and/or psychotherapy, although it does sometimes take a bit of trial and error, with a small percentage requiring ECT), there is no doubt that some patients are resistant to these treatment options.

Vagus Nerve Stimulation therapy device for treating psychiatric disorder is undergoing FDA approval

Vagus Nerve Stimulation therapy, used since 1997 to reduce seizures in epilepsy patients who did not respond to medication, might give hope to people whose depression keeps them from working, caring for families and enjoying life… The first implant for treating a psychiatric disorder is on target for final approval by the Food and Drug Administration within 60 days. In mid-June, the electrical nerve stimulator was recommended by an FDA committee…

The concept for using the VNS for depression came serendipitously after epileptic patients noted improvements in their moods. The implant works like this: A small generator, similar to a cardiac pacemaker, is surgically implanted into the left side of the chest. Wires from the generator are wrapped around the left vagus nerve, which runs alongside the carotid artery. The vagus nerve sends messages to deep regions of the brain, stimulating and changing brain activity, particularly in areas regulating mood, Lisanby said. The generator delivers electrical pulses for 30 seconds, about once every five minutes, for people with depression.

The generator can be turned on and off using a hand-held magnetic wand. While epileptic patients with the VNS implant are taught how to control the stimulator according to seizure activity, for people with depression, the generator is on continuously…

As with research into treatments for many physical illnesses and medical conditions, to me what is significant about reports like this is not how many people can be helped or even whether or not this particular treatment proves to be effective – what is important is that it is a reminder that research into improved methods for treating these illnesses is ongoing. If you are among those who are currently struggling with depression, anxiety disorders, or major mental illness, and feeling frustrated by the treatments you have tried so far, do not give up hope. With a bit of patience and some trial-and-error, there is a very good possibility that you will either find an existing treatment that is beneficial to you, or you may be one of those who is helped by something currently under development.

As with research into treatments for many physical illnesses and medical conditions, to me what is significant about reports like this is not how many people can be helped or even whether or not this particular treatment proves to be effective – what is important is that it is a reminder that research into improved methods for treating these illnesses is ongoing. If you are among those who are currently struggling with depression, anxiety disorders, or major mental illness, and feeling frustrated by the treatments you have tried so far, do not give up hope. With a bit of patience and some trial-and-error, there is a very good possibility that you will either find an existing treatment that is beneficial to you, or you may be one of those who is helped by something currently under development.

depression, depression treatment, electrical stimulation

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