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Deep Brain Stimulation Shows Promise for People with Severe Depression


A new study finds potentially long-lasting benefits of deep brain stimulation (DBS) for people who have not responded to other treatments for severe depression.

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Description automatically generatedDBS is commonly used to treat Parkinson’s disease and it is also approved to treat epilepsy, essential tremor (a neurological disorder that causes shaking), dystonia (a movement disorder) and obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is being studied to treat other conditions, including treatment-resistant depression.

DBS involves surgery to implant electrodes in specific areas of the brain. The electrodes are connected by a wire (under the skin) to a device, a neurostimulator, that is implanted under the skin near the collar bone. The device sends electrical signals to the specific areas of the brain, blocking the impulses that cause problems.

Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders and an estimated one-third of people with major depression do not experience improved symptoms after trying two or more antidepressants.

The new research published in The American Journal of Psychiatry finds that after DBS treatment most people in the small study experienced improvements and maintained those improvements over time. It  is particularly important that the treatment provides long-term maintenance to prevent a relapse, the study authors note.

Study lead Andrea Crowell, M.D., of Emory University School of Medicine, and colleagues analyzed long-term follow-up data from 28 patients aged 27 to 65 who underwent DBS surgery. Study participants had been diagnosed with major depression or bipolar II disorder. All were in a depressive episode lasting at least a year and had not responded to at least four antidepressant medications, psychotherapy and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).