UK Launches First Home-based Technological Treatment for Depression
Thu, April 22, 2021

UK Launches First Home-based Technological Treatment for Depression

Flow released its medically-approved brain stimulation headset that it claims can treat depression. / Photo by: Stanislaw Mikulski via Shutterstock


Therapy and medications now have another companion in treating depression: a brain stimulation device that can be used at home.

Medical technology company Flow released its medically-approved brain stimulation headset that it claims can treat depression. According to Flow, the device can nudge neurons of a person with depression with a gentle electric current to manipulate the activity of the brain's frontal lobe. The headset comes with a smartphone app and can be used even without the presence of a therapist.

The Flow Headset

The headset is similar to a miniature virtual reality headset in design, with the only difference being the curved white visor placed on the patient's forehead and a band that hooks over the top of the head to keep it in place.

Single-use cloth pads that come with it are placed between the skin and the headset's suction pads to ease the skin's reaction to direct electrical currents. According to TechRadar, each treatment lasts about 30 minutes for 18 sessions over six weeks (three times a week) or as long as needed.

TechRadar is a UK-based online publication that provides the latest news and reviews on technology, with editorial teams based in the US, Australia, and India.

It adds that the headset was developed to be used alongside a virtual therapy app. The app, which is currently only available on iOS, provides users with information about depression and the lifestyle changes they can make with their diet, workout routine, sleeping habits, and meditation.

In their website, Flow said that the headset is "based on a well-researched brain stimulation technology" known as transcranial direct-current stimulation (TDSC), the same underlying technology of other existing shock therapy.

TDSC is a non-invasive way of stimulating the brain by producing mild electric currents using battery-powered electrodes, and clinical studies have shown that it can improve symptoms of depression.

"People diagnosed with depression often have lower activity in the left frontal cortex of their brain," Flow said, as per TechRadar. "The headset delivers a gentle electrical signal which activates neurons and rebalances activity in the frontal lobe."


Flow headset can nudge neurons of a person with depression with a gentle electric current to manipulate the activity of the brain's frontal lobe. / Photo by: Leigh Prather via Shutterstock


Efficacy of TDCS Treatment

Since it uses the TDCS technique, the Flow headset mainly rides on the studies that support the TDSC treatment—which has been used to address symptoms of depression among patients. 

A 2016 meta-analysis found that there was a greater improvement in patients who were treated with active TDCS, according to Sooma Oy Medical, a Finnish medical device company that develops non-invasive brain stimulation devices.

It adds that an older study, published in 2013, also showed greater improvements for patients treated with active TDCS than those who were treated with a placebo drug (43.3 percent against 16.7 percent). Sooma notes that the response showed over 50 percent improvement in depression scores.

The same study also showed that 40 percent of the active TDCS group reached remission while only 13.3 percent were the same for the placebo group. Other researchers looked into the relapse rate following successful TDCS depression treatment in two studies.

The medical device company says the first study found a mean response duration of 11.7 weeks and a sustained response rate of 47 percent at 24 weeks. Meanwhile, the second study found sustained response rates of 83.7 percent at three months and 51.1 percent at six months.

Electroconvulsive Therapy

Aside from the headset and TDCS, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is another form of treatment that uses an electric current to stimulate the brain and reduce the symptoms of depression.

It has been proven to treat major depressive disorder, according to Psycom, as 70 to 90 percent of patients treated with the technology experience a substantial improvement of depression symptoms.

Psycom is an online medical website that covers a variety of mental health conditions and provides a service to the reader through education and empowerment. It adds that ECT also works for patients with other mental health issues.

For instance, a 2017 study found that 70 percent of patients with schizophrenia experienced at least a 20 percent reduction of symptoms and half experienced at least a 40 percent reduction. Another study reported that the same was found in 77 percent of patients receiving ECT, with only nine percent reported having temporary cognitive impairment.

"ECT does not cure depression, schizophrenia, or other mental health conditions," Psycom notes. "Though it can alleviate symptoms, patients will require continued treatment including psychotherapy and medication to manage their mental health."

The same could be said for the Flow headset, which mainly rebalances the activities in the brain's region.

Still, innovations that have been proven to effectively address mental health problems are welcome, according to Stephen Buckley of mental health charity Mind.

"What works varies from person to person," he told science news site the New Scientist, adding that these "can include talking treatments, medication, exercise, self-help, and social support.”

Different illnesses call for different treatments, but such an idea is emphasized when it comes to mental health problems. Not a single treatment is a one-size-fits-all for everyone facing the same problem, but innovations like the Flow headset provide more options for patients.