The unconventional and somewhat controversial treatment is being explored as a possible method of reducing or eliminating depression. The concept, also known as electric shock therapy, has been used for decades to treat people with mental illness, typically mood disorders such as severe depression.
However, until recently no one knew how it worked. Research, including studies being performed at Foothills Medical Centre at Calgary, has revealed that electrodes that are placed deep within a brain can be electrically charged and result in a massive improvement in people who suffer from deep depression.
A university team in Scotland conducted tests and discovered electric shock affects how cells in the brain communicate with each other. All I can say is “No kidding.” Anytime an electric shock passes through cells it stimulates them and sometimes the result is less than desirable.
The Scottish researchers found that electric shock reduces the sensitivity of overactive connections in the brain that control mood, as well as some of the areas that control concentration and thinking. They believe overactive brain connections are the reason depression occurs and subjecting the appropriate areas to electrical stimulation reduces the connection strength. I find that quite interesting because an old friend of mine who has suffered from depression for more than 30 years seems to get locked into cycles of thought from which there is no escape.
The end result of recent studies into electric stimulation of deep brain areas is depression has been reduced in patients who have unsuccessfully tried all other types of treatment.
In fact, the Alberta trials have produced some amazing results. According to a story in the Medicine Hat News, about half of the people undergoing DBS in Alberta noticed a 50 per cent improvement in their depression. Some of the test subjects reported depression had totally left them. The treatment and subsequent positive results definitely points to the source of the illness being hyperconnections within certain areas of the brain.
However, the process of safely inducing an electrical shock deep within a human brain is not a simple process. It involves a six-to-eight hour neurosurgery to determine the best location to implant electrodes. A few days later, a pacemaker for the brain is implanted under the skin in the chest. The unit controls the electricity delivered to the electrodes. The procedure certainly sounds expensive, but that is the way of modern medicine.
The bad news is the treatment seems to be effective in only half of the people who received treatment, so what is going happening in the brains of the remaining 50 per cent of depression victims who did not receive any relief from electro shock?
Regarding treating the source of depression, I want to know what causes hyperconnections to occur in the brain. When researchers find the answer, then they can begin to truly treat the cause instead of the symptom.
Regarding my old friend who suffers from depression, there have been events in his life (some dating back to his early childhood) that left a deep emotional wound that has never healed. I cannot help but wonder how many times physical and mental illnesses are treated while the source of the problem is overlooked.
The body and mind are very complex mechanisms, so finding the cause of any disease is a very expensive and time-consuming process. The worst part is we are all slightly different when it comes to the chemical processes in our bodies, so the drug regimen that cures one person may be totally ineffective for another person with the identical disease. Perhaps even more troublesome is the way emotions and thought patterns can influence a person’s health and make a pharmaceutical cure impossible.
We are truly complex beings and it is my hope to one day fully understand myself and the reasons I think, act and react as I do. Until that day comes, I will rely on my wife to explain why I behave the way I do.