Deep depression that fails to respond to any other form of therapy can be moderated or reversed by stimulation of areas deep inside the brain. Now the first placebo-controlled study of this procedure shows that these responses can be maintained in the long term.
Neurologist Helen Mayberg at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, followed ten patients with major depressive disorder and seven with bipolar disorder, or manic depression, after an electrode device was implanted in the subcallosal cingulate white matter of their brains and the area continuously stimulated.
All but one of twelve patients who reached the two-year point in the study had completely shed their depression or had only mild symptoms.
The idea of stimulating brains with electricity or magnets in my or anyone’s brain feels disturbing. It sounds like all these went through it as a matter of last resort. Last weekend I watched a called Blood & Guts: A History of Surgery on the brain. There is a scene where a guy is touching his nose repeatedly and using intense magnetic fields prevent the subject from being able to control muscles. My spine shivers every time I watch this. (So why do I watch it over and over?)
Of course, an old way of solving this was trans-orbital lobotomies. Take an ice pick and hammer it through the upper eye socket (the orbit) into the prefrontal cortex. Hook me up to electrodes, please…