The Pros and Cons of Popular Depression Treatments

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Over the last decade the incidence of depression have literally skyrocketed

While we are living in what many could only describe as a time of abundance, it doesn’t feel like it.

In fact, as a society, we are more stressed than ever before.

We are struggling to cope with the rigors of daily life, and we are becoming completely overwhelmed with all that is expected of us.

In short, our happiness is taking a hit – and it is taking a massive toll on our mental health.

With this in mind, there has been a large increase in the acceptance and utilization of a range of common depression treatments, including electroconvulsive therapy, transcranial magnetic stimulation, antidepressants, and light therapy.

But do they really work, or are they making things worse?

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)

Electroconvulsive therapy (or ECT for short) is a cognitive treatment that has been around for quite some time.

You see, it was traditionally used to treat severe psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia and psychosis. 

However, over the last decade, it has become increasingly common to treat more severe cases of depression – and the reason I say severe cases is because it is often considered as a last resort…

See, ECT is performed in an operating suite, and under general anesthesia. This means that you are knocked out cold prior to receiving treatment – after which a doctor will provide an electrical stimulus straight to your brain, which normally lasts around five seconds. 

This shock induces a small seizure, which lasts for about a minute. 

Now this is where things get quite interesting.

This small seizure is thought to reset the brain, in which it returns it functional ability back to normal. As a result, ECT has been shown to cause lasting improvements in mood and mental state – as well as offer a powerful treatment for depression.

Pros of ECT

So, lets first outline the Pros of ECT:

  • It is effective
  • Assists in the treatment of many cases of depression where other treatments have failed
  • Treatment only takes around 5-6 weeks, with 2-3 sessions per week.

Cons of ECT

Now let us move into the cons:

  • ECT is expensive (in some cases up to $2500 per session)
  • It is quite invasive, and requires a doctor present
  • It has associated side effects (including feeling confused after the treatment, short term memory loss, feeling ill and nauseous after the treatment, headaches, jaw aches, and muscle aches).

Now when you compare ECT to TMS, which is our next candidate, TMS is a clear winner.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)

So, what about transcranial magnetic stimulation (or TMS for short)?

Transcranial magnetic stimulation is an interesting depression treatment that involves the use of magnetic fields to activate specific cells found within your brain. See, during a TMS session, an electromagnetic pad is placed on your skull. 

This pad will then send a magnetic pulse into your brain, which has been shown to activate many of the nerve cells found in your brain. Or to be more specific – it stimulates the nerves in those sections of your brain that are responsible for controlling your mood and emotional responses.

As a result, TMS has been shown time and time again to improve your mood and enhance feelings of general wellbeing. More importantly, through this interaction, it also been shown to have a huge impact on depression.

Pros of TMS

What about the pros of TMS?

  • It is not too expensive (in fact, it is about half of the price of ECT)
  • TMS is relatively simple to administer, and it is non-invasive (it doesn’t require you to be knocked out during treatment)
  • It is still an effective treatment for most cases of depression

Cons of TMS

However, that is not to say it is without any negatives:

  • Treatment can take a large time commitment (20-30 sessions in a 6-week period)
  • It has some side effects (including headaches, skin discomfort, feeling lightheaded and dizzy, and muscle spasms in the face)
  • It is often considered to be less effective the ECT

Dr. Lindsay Israel compared ECT to TMS here.

Antidepressants

One of the most common depression treatments on the planet requires the consumption of prescription medications known as antidepressants.  To keep it simple, these potent substances provide a shot of key neurotransmitters (or ‘brain chemicals’) directly into your brain.

As a result, they actually alter the chemical makeup of your brain, which affects your mood.

See, many of the neurotransmitters found within your brain are used to maintain a normal mental state. But they need to be in balance to do this – and if they are not in balance, they can cause depression and anxiety.

As a result, antidepressants essentially act to correct this imbalance, thus improving your depression. 

However, while they are very much the most common means of treating depression, they are not necessarily the most effective – nor are they without their downfalls.

Pros of Antidepressants

What are the pros of antidepressants?

  • They are convenient to take
  • Antidepressants have been shown to work across several different types of depression
  • They are relatively affordable

Cons of Antidepressants

But, as I mentioned above, they do have some negatives associated:

  • People taking antidepressants can develop a dependence  or an intolerance
  • They can cause other mental health issues (such as panic disorder, or extreme apathy)
  • There is evidence to suggest that they become less effective over time
  • They also have other side effects (such as nausea, dizziness, lightheadedness and anxiety)

Light therapy

Last (but certainly not least) I wanted to talk about light therapy.

Light therapy is a unique and non-invasive depression treatment that has become increasingly popular over the last decade because it is easy to implement, safe, and relatively natural.

Interestingly (or at least I think it is), it is built on some very unique research demonstrating that those people who get more sunlight tend to be at a much lower risk of depression than those who get less sunlight.

Pretty cool, right.

But why in the world is this the case?

Well, it appears to come down to the fact that natural light is absorbed into your body, where it stimulates the production of specific hormones. In this manner, light actually regulates your hormonal system, while also helping you better manage your nervous system.

Both of which are heavily related to your mental health.

But obviously getting a good amount of sunlight daily can be much easier said than done – which is exactly where light therapy enters the equation.

Light therapy is a mode of treatment that simply has you standing next to a thing called a ‘light therapy box’ for about an hour per day. This amazing contraption emits a light that almost perfectly replicates natural sunlight, in which it affects your body in the exact same way.

As a result, light therapy has been shown to boost mood and seriously help treat depression.

Pros of Light Therapy

Now, as l have already alluded to, light therapy has some obvious pros:

  • It is non-invasive and completely natural
  • Has no significant side effects
  • Is very cost-effective can be completed anywhere

Cons of Light Therapy

But that isn’t to say that it does not have any cons:

  • Light therapy is arguably the least effective depression treatment listed in this article
  • Can cause some small side effects (including headaches, dry eyes, and mild fatigue)

Conclusions

With the incidence of depression only increasing, it is important to gain an understanding of the common treatments that currently exist, as well as their many pros and cons. 

While each of the treatment methods listed in this article has been shown to work, there is never any guarantee that they will work for you. This means that it is always in your best interest to explore your options and use those treatments that resonate with you at a deeper, individual, level.

And I hope that this article can help you do just that.