Bruce Ross has suffered with depression for 40 years. The 53-year-old man from Canada wasn’t diagnosed until the late 90s, and post diagnosis was prescribed numerous medications in a bid to treat his symptoms. Unfortunately, none of these options proved fruitful and Bruce’s psychiatrist said he was the most treatment resistant patient he had ever seen. At one point, Bruce contemplated suicide.
A couple of years ago Bruce found out about a new approach being trialled at the University of Toronto called deep brain stimulation (DBS). The treatment involves inserting electrodes into the brain and attaching it to a battery located under the collarbone. The electrodes act almost like a pacemaker, transmitting electrical impulses that can inhibit or stimulate neural activity. Keen to find any sort of relief, Bruce agreed to take part in the trial.
While it may sound like an extreme option, DBS is already used to help those with Parkinson’s disease and chronic pain. It’s ability to help with depression however, is in the early stages of research, though the results so far have been promising, with an improvement in symptoms seen in 60% of cases.
Years of medical imaging of the brain have shown several areas that are involved in mood disorders. The brain region thought to be responsible for such disorders has been labelled ‘Area 25’, an area that can be controlled by electrodes. By stimulating the inhibitory circuit within this region, DBS is essentially reducing and slowing activity – like the brake pedal on a car.
The most exciting part of this research is its longevity, “With treatment for Area 25, if you get better, you stay better”, says Professor Mayberg, a leader of the research. The question on everyone’s lips however is, why doesn’t it work for everyone? Researchers say this could be down to the individual’s particular brain mapping being different or even that it is a different disease entirely.
Of course, with such an invasive procedure, there are serious risks involved. Nevertheless, DBS represents an intrinsic shift in the way we view such mood disorders. Bruce Ross is incredibly happy with the results, saying before the treatment he would rate his life at four out of 10, whereas now he would rate it seven out of 10.
“I sleep better, my appetite’s better. I feel more relaxed, I’m more motivated at work. Would I recommend it to others? Absolutely.”