For severe depression, electro-shock therapy is nowadays the last hope. However, it can impair memory for weeks after therapy. A less aggressive alternative seems to be provided by what is known as "transcranial magnetic stimulation". This is the conclusion arrived at by doctors and psychologists of the Bonn University Clinic in an article which has just appeared in the British Journal of Psychiatry (vol. 186 , pp. 410-416).
Nowadays depression is seen as amenable to treatment: with psychotherapy or medication most patients affected can be assisted out of their depressive phase. About five per cent of all patients, however, fall into such profound depression that they do not respond to these methods. Because depression is one of the most frequent psychological diseases every sixth person suffers from it at least once in their lives this affects a large number of people.
In these cases electro-shock therapy is one option. This involves the patient being anaesthetised. Then the doctors pass electrical impulses through the patient's head via two electrodes, thereby triggering an epileptic spasm. This changes the cerebral chemistry in the area of the forehead, a region which, among other things, regulates the emotions and steers the psycho-motor reflexes.
Effective therapy bad image
One in two patients who previously did not respond to other therapies improve after a series of therapy to the extent that therapy can be continued by using medication or psychotherapy. 'In the severest cases of depression electro-shock therapy is nowadays still an important therapeutic option,' the head of the Bonn Psychiatric Clinic, Professor Wolfgang Maier, emphasises. Despite this, the public image of this method has long been very negative not least due to the movie classic 'One Flew Over the Cucko
Contact: Dr. Michael Wagner
University of Bonn