By Eve Kirman
While the focus is more on mindfulness and mental well-being these days, the Covid-19 pandemic has forced us to take a few steps back in terms of mental health as a nation. According to the Office for National Statistics, a 19% increase in diagnoses of depression was observed between November 2020 and early 2021. This is no surprise, given the hectic lifestyle and financial insecurity that the pandemic has caused many people.
Before the pandemic, a 2014 study by Mind UK found that three in every 100 people every week are diagnosed with depression in England alone. Depression can affect anyone and can be experienced because of multiple things in a person’s life.
Treatments for depression vary in severity, but generally involve talking therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and / or taking antidepressants, such as selective serotonin uptake inhibitors. In particularly severe cases of depression, where the above treatment methods have not had any positive effect, patients may be subjected to electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).
ECT works by triggering a small seizure in the brain stimulated by electrical currents. The process is intended to cause changes in the chemical makeup of the brain, however, the controversial process is not effective in all patients and can cause many side effects. So what hope is there for patients for whom ECT has had no effect, or for those who do not wish to undertake ECT?
Recently, progress has been made in the trials of a new experimental therapy by researchers at the University of California at San Francisco. The therapy involves placing an electrical implant on a patient’s skull. It detects the wearer’s brain activity and delivers an electrical pulse to the brain when needed. Thus, the device can disrupt depression waves instantly as they occur.
Although they have only been tested on one patient so far, the results are very encouraging. Sarah, who is 36 and has suffered from severe depression for many years, has found no relief in antidepressants or ECT, but says new treatment has given her “life worth living” back. . By recording her mood on a website, an algorithm was able to modify itself to interpret the electrical diagrams of Sarah’s amygdala, allowing the system to help her laugh properly for the first time in five years.
Katherine Scangos, who led the project, sees the technique not only as a success for individuals, but also for a broader understanding of how depression affects the brain, recounting The Guardian that “this success in itself is an incredible advance in our knowledge of the brain function that underlies mental illness.” Consulting psychiatrist Professor Rupert McShane of the University of Oxford agrees, saying this essay “points to a way to examine the biology of sheer falls into despair that can be so destructive. [to those suffering from depression]. “
Research on treatments for depression is now moving towards a more personalized method, but future clinical trials are needed to prove the device’s effectiveness in other people. Plus, the £ 26,000 price tag and the invasive nature of the surgery means it may not be a solution for everyone, with plans to only treat people with severe depression. Nonetheless, even the few steps forward taken here are crucial in society’s battle to improve treatments for depression.
Illustration: Ella Blaxill