4 Therapies That Are Changing the Way We Look at Depression Treatment

When most people think of depression treatment they first think of antidepressants. While prescription drugs are effective for some patients, they don’t work all of the time. On the other hand, others who suffer from depression don’t want to deal with the side effects of drugs. Antidepressants can cause all sorts of side effects including weight gain, nausea, and loss of sex drive. In serious cases, prescription antidepressants can make depression symptoms even worse.

Have prescriptions for antidepressants not worked for you? Keep reading to learn about 4 new therapies developing for relieving treatment-resistant depression.

  1. Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is one of the most serious forms of depression treatment. This form of therapy is often reserved for those who have tried other treatments but experienced little to no relief. ECT works through the use of an electric current that produces a controlled seizure. The seizure typically lasts around 30 seconds and is therapeutic for the brain.

The seizure stimulates underactive regions of the brain, especially the prefrontal cortex. While having a seizure sounds like a scary experience, rest assured that patients don’t suffer from the physical side effects. Patients are given anesthesia and a muscle relaxant to prevent convulsions. With these medications, patients hardly experience any physical side effects. Instead, the seizure can only be seen on an EEG machine.

Patients who undergo ECT therapy often experience minimal and temporary symptoms such as headaches, muscle cramps, and nausea. In serious cases, patients may experience memory loss. However, patients with memory loss often report that their memories return weeks or months after therapy finishes.

  1. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is an effective therapy for treating severe depression. This form of therapy uses a strong magnetic field that produces an electric current in the brain. Patients with depression often suffer from an underactive dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that regulates mood and emotions. Since this area can be underactive or dysfunctional, an electric current is used to restore normal function to these areas of the brain. After treatment, patients are able to better regulate and control their depression.

TMS treatment typically lasts about 40 minutes and sessions should occur multiple times a week. Most patients undergo treatment for at least four weeks. During TMS sessions, patients may experience headaches, hearing problems, and painful sensations on the scalp. These side effects are usually temporary and can be treated with over-the-counter pain medication if needed.

Aside from the minimal symptoms, TMS is also very well tolerated. Treatment is non-invasive and doesn’t impact other areas of the body. This means you can drive yourself to and from treatments and return to your everyday life once a session concludes.

  1. Magnetic Seizure Therapy (MST)

Magnetic Seizure Therapy (MST) is a combination of ECT and TMS therapy. MST uses magnetic pulses to stimulate a specific region of the brain to cause a controlled seizure. To do this, electric pulses are given at an extremely high frequency. One of the biggest benefits of MST therapy is the lowered risk of serious side effects that can occur after ECT therapy such as memory loss. With MST, the cognitive side effects are reduced.

MST is still in the early stages of testing but studies have shown that the therapy can trigger remission for those suffering from depression and other mental health issues.

  1. Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS)

Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS) is another form of brain stimulation therapy that has proven to be useful in minimizing depression symptoms. VNS works through a device that is implanted under the skin. The device sends electrical impulses through the left vagus nerve. The vagus nerves are responsible for carrying messages from the brain to the vital organs as well as to regions in the brain that control sleep and mood regulation.

In 2005, the FDA approved VNS as a treatment for epilepsy, but the treatment has also proven to be effective in causing favorable impacts on mood, including lowering depression symptoms. The pulses emitted by the device alter neurotransmitters in the brain, including GABA, serotonin, norepinephrine, and glutamate.

While this form of therapy isn’t extremely common, a study found that 32% of those with depression responded well to VSN. Out of that number, 14% had a full remission of depression symptoms after two years of treatment.


In the age of prescription medications, it’s nice to know of the other options that are developing for people who suffer from treatment-resistant depression.  In time, we’re sure to see many advances in how depression is treated as a whole.

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