Roughly one in five Americans suffers from a mental illness, according to the National Association of Mental Illness, and anxiety and depression account for an overwhelming majority of these cases. Usually the first line of treatment for those who suffer from anxiety and/or depression are drugs like antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications— and for good cause. Medications have helped many people find relief from debilitating symptoms, cope better with daily life, and manage their condition more effectively.
But, for various reasons, medication isn’t for everyone. Many people can’t tolerate antidepressants, and have “treatment-resistant” depression. In many instances, a medication may only work for a temporary period, after which the symptoms come back. And, many psychotropic drugs can also have negative long-term effects on the brain and body. For example, benzodiazepine drugs, which doctors often prescribe to treat anxiety disorders, can lead to dependency and addiction— and they can cause brain damage and memory impairment.
What Is Neurostimulation?
If medication isn’t for you—whatever the reason—a revolutionary new intervention called “neurostimulation” may be. Neurostimulation is a technique that involves direct electrical, magnetic and/or other vibrational stimulation to the brain. The intervention is still quite new in the U.S., despite having been successfully used to treat depression for decades in Europe, Australia and other parts of the world.
As a clinician, I’ve used neurostimulation to treat patients for years; but recently I decided to get more than my patients’ anecdotal testimony about how this treatment was helping them. I designed a 16-month-long study with 198 patients to investigate if whether neurostimulation improved recovery outcomes for patients in substance abuse treatment— and if so, how:
- Would it help patients sleep better?
- Alleviate their anxiety?
- Decrease their symptoms of depression?
- Change their EEG data (results of brain mapping that reveals areas of health and/or dysfunction)?
- And, of course, in the same vein as an abundance of studies already verifying the safety of neurostimulation … would the treatment have any adverse effects on our patients?
How Neurostimulation Relieves Anxiety, Depression and Insomnia
Strikingly, at the end of the study, the answer to each of the above questions proved to be “yes.” Patients who received neurostimulation showed bigger reductions in anxiety and depression and more noticeable improvements in sleep than patients who did not receive neurostimulation. Furthermore, in keeping with findings elsewhere, neurostimulation had no serious adverse side effects.
What was perhaps most striking, however, was that this treatment actually changed patients’ brains for the better, essentially speeding up their brain’s innate healing process. Thanks to neurostimulation, patients’ EEGs were in better shape at the end of the study, and had improved more than those from the control group.
In other words, neurostimulation relieved anxiety, depression and insomnia, by remaking the brain. I like to call it “physical therapy for the brain.”
The takeaway: whereas a medication may treat symptoms of a mental illness, neurostimulation treats the symptoms by healing and restoring the real cause of that condition— diminished brain health. That therapeutic potential should be encouraging news for anyone who struggles with anxiety, depression and/or insomnia.