Depression isn’t just being sad. It is often a chronic condition and it sometimes claims the lives of the people that it affects. Many people with depression struggle with going to seek help but those that do often find that the treatment may not work for them. Some of the treatment for chronic depression are therapy and medication. Some people with a severe variant of the condition may also choose electroshock therapy after being assessed by their neurologist and psychiatrist. Unfortunately, there is still a small subset of people that do not respond to even this treatment.
It is now more important than ever to understand how depression works.
People who are depressed often have a ventromedial cortex that is up to 40% smaller than those without depression. It’s no surprise, really. The ventromedial cortex is a bit like an emotional control system and when someone is suffering from chronic depression, it becomes nearly inactive during the depressive phase and hyperactive during the manic phase. There are other parts of the brain that both decrease and increase in activity when someone is suffering from depression.
Since scientists have a better understanding of how depression work, there are some new methods to treat it being developed.
According to an article by CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a researcher at Emery University is looking for a way to help those patients that don’t seem to respond to the treatment that is available to them. Dr. Helen Mayberg has worked on mapping the depression circuit and noticed patterns that indicated that there is a small part of the brain. They called this Area 25. Dr. Mayberg noted that when area 25 turned up, it was correlated with how sad someone was. At the same time, while area 25 turned down, the rest of the brain turned down, and that indicated that people would find it much more difficult to pay attention and do other tasks.
What is the new treatment?
Electrodes get implanted in the patient’s brain. These electrodes get power from a battery pack that is also installed under the patient’s skin. A patient doesn’t need to be put to sleep for the surgery because a brain cannot feel pain – after all, it has no nerve endings. After that, an electrical current is sent to the brain. Over 75% of the patients Dr. Helen Mayberg has treated have gotten and remain better, with one caveat. If the battery under their skin runs out, the depression returns.
It’s still early days, but this study could indicate how we are going to deal with treating people who suffer from this condition in the future.