With about 19 million American adults suffering from major depression, there’s a wide and acute interest for a treatment that will work without causing any side effects. And since physicians are not able to fully solve the problem due to the countless factors that could turn a blue day in a full blown depression, the numbers of those affected by the disorder are even higher. Scientists have recently looked at a different, more controversial treatment, called electrotherapy. A new study shows that electrotherapy might be able to treat depression.
If you have ever seen Jack Nicholson’s 1975 “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” you might remember the use of electrotherapy or electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) on patients that had severe depression and mood changes. The treatment itself gained a quite negative reputation after the picture brought it so much awareness.
Electrotherapy works by disrupting the network of connections associated with the development of depression. After the treatment, many patients felt the symptoms have reduced in intensity.
However, a team of scientists with the Aberdeen University have gone past the electrotherapy’s reputation. Their findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and for the first time the electroconvulsive therapy has been proved to have an actual impact on the different brain segments linked with depression.
Ian Reid, professor of psychiatry and lead author of the study, is very enthusiastic about their findings. “We’ve sold a 70 year old therapeutic riddle” he said. The fact is that so far doctors noticed that the therapy was giving results but they didn’t know exactly why and how. Reid’s research has given them the answer.
The lead author of the study explains: “Our key finding is that if you compare the connections in the brain before and after ECT, ECT reduces the connection strength”. In other words, as Reid adds, “for the first time we can point to something that ECT does in the brain that makes sense in the context of what we think is wrong in people who are depressed”.
At the same time the study pin points electrotherapy as “one of the most effective treatments not just in psychiatry but in the whole of medicine, because 75% to 85% of patients receover from the symptoms”.