On the 21st of August, a study was published led by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis that indicated that people treated with a device called a Vagus Nerve Stimulator experienced significant improvements in quality of life, offering hope to those battling depression.
The study involved 599 patients that battled drug-resistant depression, meaning it could not be alleviated by four or more antidepressants. The researchers tested vagus nerve stimulators, which send pulses of electrical energy to the brain via the vagus nerve.
“When evaluating patients with treatment-resistant depression, we need to focus more on their overall well-being,” said principal investigator Charles R. Conway, MD, a Washington University professor of psychiatry. “A lot of patients are on as many as three, four or five antidepressant medications, and they are just barely getting by. But when you add a vagus nerve stimulator, it really can make a big difference in people’s everyday lives.”
The study compared those who received vagus nerve stimulation with others who received regular anti-depressant treatment as usual, which also includes, transcranial magnetic stimulation, psychotherapy, and electroconvulsive therapy.
The researchers involved in the study assessed the quality of life based on 14 categories that included physical health, ability to work, family relationships and overall well-being.
“On about 10 of the 14 measures, those with vagus nerve stimulators did better,” Conway said. “For a person to be considered to have responded to a depression therapy, he or she needs to experience a 50 percent decline in his or her standard depression score. But we noticed, anecdotally, that some patients with stimulators reported they were feeling much better even though their scores were only dropping 34 to 40 percent.”
The discovery of using a vagus nerve stimulator for depression was around 1997, when the devices were surgically implanted under the skin, either in the neck or chest to help with epilepsy. Researchers noticed that patients who were also battling depression experienced rapid improvements in their moods.
One of the people that this new study helped was Charlie Donovan, a St. Louis mortgage contractor.
“At the time, it was life-changing, life-altering. I was in utter despair and hopelessness. I had probably tried 15 different medications, several hospitalizations, electroconvulsive shock therapy. Nothing was working, and I was getting worse.”
Donovan joined an early trial of the vagus nerve stimulator in 2001, which enrolled patients with severe depression who had failed at least four other treatments.
“You had to be the worst of the worst to be in the study,” Donovan said.
It took a bit of time, but eventually, Donovan was seeing the benefits of his new treatment.
“I was not isolating myself. I was able to go out and go to the grocery store, do some pretty basic things — go see a movie and have enough concentration to follow the plot or read a book. I started to care about things in my life — how I looked, how I dressed, how I acted in public. These things sound woefully minor to anyone who has not suffered from severe depression. This is the formula that works. I am not changing it. Once you have been in the depths of despair, you don’t want to risk going back to those days,” Donovan said.
The use of the vagus nerve stimulator is in conjunction with anti-depressants and therapy as well. The cost of the implant is $50,000 and not all insurance companies will pay for such a procedure. However, there is hope that this treatment is working, and you never know what kind of funding options may be available to patients in the coming years.
If you or a loved one you know battles with any Mental Health Issues, please do get the help you need. If you need to talk to someone now, you can talk to one of the many fantastic therapists at Better Help by CLICKING HERE.
Photo Credit: Matt Miller