Treatment for depression and bipolar disorder often include four elements: talk therapy, medication, peer support, and a personal wellness plan. Sometimes, though, these aren’t enough. Fortunately, there are several other biological treatments currently in use that have been shown to help reduce symptoms of depression or bipolar disorder.
Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)
In the 1930s, ECT was discovered when researchers learned that applying a small amount of electrical current to the brain caused small mild seizures that changed brain chemistry. Over the years, much has been done to make this form of treatment milder and easier for people to tolerate. During ECT, a machine is used to send small electrical currents to the brain. These currents cause a seizure that lasts about 30 seconds. Treatment is usually repeated two or three times a week over a period of a few weeks. ECT can be effective in treating severe depression. However, there can be side effects such as confusion and memory loss. The procedure must be performed in a hospital with general anesthesia.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)
TMS works by using a special electromagnetic device that is placed on the scalp and sends short bursts of energy to the brain. These pulses of energy stimulate nerve cells in the part of the brain that’s associated with mood regulation. TMS therapy does not require surgery, hospitalization, or anesthesia. The side effects associated with TMS, such as a mild headache or lightheadedness, are relatively infrequent and usually go away soon after the treatment session.
Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS)
VNS involves implanting a small battery-powered device, similar to a pacemaker, under the skin on the left side of the chest. The device is programmed to deliver a mild electrical stimulation to the vagus nerve. The FDA has approved VNS therapy for people 18 years of age or older who are experiencing chronic or recurrent treatment-resistant depression. The treatment has been shown to be equally effective in both unipolar depression and bipolar disorder. The antidepressant effect of VNS tends to build up slowly and continue over time. The most common side effects of VNS are hoarseness, sore throat and shortness of breath.
Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation (CES) devices
CES devices work by sending a low-level electric current across the head and brain in short spurts. The current is at such a low-level that people often do not feel it. The device is usually attached to the head via a headband or by clips that are worn on the earlobes. Makers of these devices indicate that they are effective in treating depression, anxiety and insomnia.
Biofeedback is a method that helps people control their symptoms by taking deep breaths, relaxing muscles, or changing thoughts. In biofeedback there is a device that can be worn or attached to a finger or earlobe that measures things like your heart-rate, muscle tension and breathing. The user receives feedback from the device in the form of beeping or flashing. As you change your physiological reaction, the feedback you receive will change. This can help an individual learn the things that will reduce the symptoms they are experiencing with the goal being that eventually people will be able to utilize these skills without the use of a device. Biofeedback can be used for a variety of issues including anxiety, chronic pain, and headaches.