Canadian researchers have found that severe depression, which is often unresponsive to standard treatments, may be alleviated with an experimental treatment called deep brain stimulation.
Six severely depressed patients who had been suffering for up to 10 years despite treatment with antidepressant medications, psychotherapy and electroconvulsive therapy, underwent deep brain stimulation.This involves surgically implanting electrodes in a targeted area of the brain thought to be involved in depression; four patients experienced a "striking and sustained" let-up in their depression.
When the electrodes were activated patients reported effects such as sudden calmness, heightened awareness and increased interest. They also exhibited increased motor speed and higher rates of spontaneous speech.
Within 2 months of continuous electrical stimulation, five of the six patients exhibited decreases in their depression by at least 50 percent. At 6 months, four continued to respond to the treatment.
Improvements included increased energy levels, interest, and psychomotor speed, decreased apathy and improved ability to initiate and complete tasks.
According to study investigator Dr. Helen S. Mayberg from Emory University in Atlanta, the four who improved, had "early onset depression with classic melancholic features." but not the other two. The four patients are "well past a year" since electrode implantation, and "they continue to be well, so it is very encouraging," she added.
New treatments are needed to avoid patients strugging to cope for years on drug cocktails and combinations of pills and electroconvulsive therapy before concluding that something else is needed.
Deep brain stimulation has been used with some success in the treatment of epilepsy and Parkinson's disease.