Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. was Director of Mental Help Net from 1999 to 2011. Dr. Dombeck received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology in 1995 ...Read More
Some people are not very helped by standard depression treatments such as anti-depressant medication. When the medicine chest options have been exhausted, psychiatrists will sometimes recommend more dramatic options, such as electro-convulsive "shock" therapy, which involves the passage of an electric current through the brain of a sedated patient. It sounds barbaric, but it tends to work when nothing else will. Doctors have long suspected that it is probably not necessary to shock the entire brain to achieve the sought after remission from otherwise intractable depression. Recently, deep brain stimulation surgeries have been attempted, in which small electrodes are placed into specific areas of the brain where a constant current can keep those areas stimulated while leaving the rest of the brain alone. Think of it as a sort of brain pace-maker that keeps mood regular, instead of the heart. The preliminary results for this sort of thing appear to be good, but its not a trivial thing (being open-brain surgery). There are many risks, which are mostly ofset (as is ECT) by the risk that nothing else useful will alleviate the depression and suicide may result.
This stuff is not exactly news (although it is a new sort of intervention). I wrote about it a while back in an essay titled "Blunt Instruments". However, there is a nice piece in the New York Times today about it. Read it while you can (before they lock it into their archive!).