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The brain device that could beat depression



A brain stimulation headset has been shown to help 81 per cent of patients suffering from depression feel better after three weeks.

The wearable headset is produced by medical device company, Flow, and is the first drug-free, at-home treatment of its type to be medically approved in the EU and UK.

The user analysis conducted by the Swedish company also revealed that 35 per cent of patients reported an improvement in their mood, 32 per cent reported a reduction in anxiety and 29 per cent reported a reduction in suicidal thoughts.

According to the WHO, depression affects over 300 million people, with a huge cost for healthcare systems worldwide. The economic cost of mental illness in the UK is an estimated £105.2 billion, and one in three work sickness notes handed out by GPs are for mental health reasons, including depression.

The Flow headset uses transcranial Direct-Current Stimulation (tDCS), an experimental brain simulation method that has been shown to have a similar effect as anti-depressants but with fewer and less-severe side effects.

The device produces a weak electric current on the left side of the forehead to stimulate the prefrontal cortex; the part of the brain that often displays abnormally low activity in depressed patients.

Other common methods of brain stimulation are electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).

ECT is a method used for severely depressed patients and requires the individual to be sedated. Although a highly effective method, the procedure must take place under supervision of a medical professional and can have negative effects on the brain such as memory loss.

TMS is a more intrusive method which has the capability of causing serious harm if used incorrectly. For example, if it is placed on the wrong part of the head, it could cause the shutdown of breathing.

Flow says its patented tDCS method is safe for mild to moderately depressed patients to use at home but still has roughly the same effects as TMS.

Mansson says: “tDCS has been used for a while so there are other devices out there, but what’s unique about us is that we are the only company in the world that has a tDCS device that has the CE certificates. So, for the first time, tDCS is available and approved for home treatment.”

Flow sells its products in 30 countries, including EU and non-EU countries, the UK and Hong Kong, and is currently being tested in twenty UK clinics, which are combing the treatment with antidepressants and maintenance treatment for TMS.

The Flow headset is accompanied with a therapy app programme, which provides patients with personalised behavioural therapy in areas proven to reduce symptoms of depression, such as nutrition, exercise and sleep. NHS trusts and healthcare professionals can now recommend the Flow app to patients having recently been added to the ORCHA App Library.

Mansson says: “The product is a combination of brain stimulation aspects of tDCS and the methods and knowledge used in psychology for at least 50 years. We don’t want to throw out all old knowledge. Instead, we want to combine it with new technology.

“I believe in the holistic perspective when it comes to mental health and depression. The device is designed to give patients an extra push as it can be very hard for a depressed person to get going. But then we need to prevent it from coming back, so we advise and guide them on how to change their behaviour.

“We teach the user about how to eat better, sleep better, perform physical exercise and meditate. We then combine that with the brain stimulation.”

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, there has been a rise in mental health issues, especially stress and anxiety. Mansson expects this anxiety may have a knock-on effect, causing cases of depression in the near future.

“There are different stages in this. Feelings of anxiety and stress are prevalent right now and have been rising at a faster rate than depression. However, we know that stress and anxiety often lead to depression, so we expect to see an increase in depression coming during the autumn, which is troubling because the numbers have already started to increase.”

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