If psychotropic drugs can’t lift a mind from depression, sometimes a harsher, more somatically direct intervention is necessary.

Here’s part of a report from the New York-Presbyterian Hospital Showcases Advances in Treating Depression:

Electroconvulsive therapy is still the gold standard in nonpharmacologic somatic treatment, though other brain-stimulation treatments are now emerging. One is transcranial magnetic stimulation, recently approved by the FDA, which applies focused magnetic stimulation to certain areas of the brain of the patient, who is awake yet experiences no subjective sensations while receiving treatment. Response rates so far have rivaled those found with medication, but without serious side effects. Whether and how it can be combined with pharmacologic therapy, and whether it is successful in medication-refractory patients, are questions that are still subject to research.

Vagal nerve stimulation, also FDA-approved, is used for patients with medication-resistant depression. Small amounts of electricity are used to stimulate the vagus nerve with a surgically implanted electrode. Although success rates for this modality are not high, some responses can be dramatic. Another form of somatic treatment, which is still experimental, is deep brain stimulation in which surgically implanted electrodes stimulate the ventral tegmental area, located deep at the base of the brain.

The fact that our minds and nerves can take such a direct and purposeful intervention is an amazement, but one is left to wonder if there isn’t some stronger, more soothing, more aesthetic way to model the brain out of the darkness instead of just hooking it up to an electrical outlet for stinging.


  1. I feel sad and I agree with you David – this should not be the way of a proper treatment.

  2. There seems to be such a giddy excitement in the medical community with this treatment option, Katha. Sure, electricity is quick and cheap and fosters fast results — but is that right? Have we considered the long-term ramifications against the body?

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