Can technology help to cure depression?

DepressionIn the wake of Robin William’s tragic suicide following years of suffering from depression, the spotlight has fallen on ways to treat the illness and prevent future deaths. The focus has always been on medicine or therapy, but recently a number of technologies have emerged that could potentially play a role in curing acute depression.

The most promising of these comes from an Israeli startup called Brainsway, which has developed a rather unique bit of wearable tech. Its built a depression-treating helmet that stimulates neuron activity in the brain with electromagnetic pulses. The treatment is already well-established in medical circles. It’s known as transcranial magnetic stimulation, and is usually delivered via electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), though Brainsway claims its helmet is safer. The treatment is only used on those patients who’ve exhausted other methods, such as anti-depressants and therapy.

Like most medical tech startups, it’s taken time for Brainsway to gain acceptance. The company was founded back in 2003, but was only approved by the FDA last year. Since then, it’s sold around 70 helmets to hospitals around the world.

“The result is remission and response rates that are higher than any treatment available today,” said Ronen Segal, the company’s Chief Technology Officer, to the Wall Street Daily. “And we can give new hope, and sometimes new life, for patients who are suffering from devastating conditions like clinical depression and other psychiatric conditions.”

But what about those who’re already contemplating suicide? Sometimes treatments are just ineffective, or otherwise people ignore them and try to keep their feelings bottled up inside. This is one reason why suicide is the second leading cause of death for men aged under 34 in the US.

To try and lower this statistic, New Zealand-based startup Social Code has developed a smartphone app called Code Blue, which provides instant support to anyone contemplating suicide. Users will receive a “support crew” the moment they call for help, and this crew will get in touch via text message, phone or even in person, whatever the user prefers.

“Depression is as much a sociological problem as it is clinical,” explained Social Code founder Siobhan Bulfin to Scoop. “It can be hard to ask for help, especially when you can’t describe what you’re feeling. We want Code Blue to make it easy. By simply pushing a button on your phone your support crew is alerted and ready to help you immediately, no explanations required.”

As Robin Williams has proved, anyone can suffer from depression no matter how successful or famous they might be. It might be too late for him, but hopefully something good can come from his death, whether that’s by inspiring new treatments for depression or persuading someone else with similar thoughts to seek help.

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc