Could a headset and smartphone app really depression? That's the claim made by Flow, for example, a brain-stimulating headset, a device that nudges your neurons with a gentle electric current.
Mind, the NHS website, or WebMD, for more information on major depressive disorders.
Flow is a medical technology company founded in 2016, and is currently based in Sweden. Its CEO, clinical psychologist Daniel Mansson, has founded the company after writing his master's thesis on brain stimulation, and has worked for at the crossroads between psychology and software.
We've been hearing the electric shock from the headphones, but can not help making any of the existing medical treatments for depression?
I'm Talking To The Head Of The Year, Daniel Mansson, while I'm Talking To Them.
What is the Flow headset?
The Flow headset looks like a miniature VR headset, except that the curved white visor sits solely on your forehead, with a band hooking over the top.
The box also comes with a box, so that your skin would not respond well to direct electrical currents.
Treatments last about 30 minutes, "with 18 sessions over a 6 week period" or "as long as necessary". The headset is designed to be used in a virtual therapy app, which can help users with depression, and the kind of "lifestyle changes", which can be made with their diet, exercise mode, and sleep hygiene, the app is only on iOS).
There is something slightly unnerving about the shock therapy, but there are some forms of transcranial direct-current stimulation (or TDCS).
This treatment is a non-invasive way of stimulating the brain with mild electrical currents, using battery-powered electrodes.
Flow's website states that "People diagnosed with depression often have a lower activity in the left frontal cortex of their brain. The headset delivers a gentle electrical signal which activates neurons and rebalances activity in the frontal lobe.
"The headset is based on a well-researched brain stimulation technology called Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation, which has been shown to reliably improve symptoms of depression."
Hang on, is this a real thing?
It's the sound of sound, somewhat sci-fi, the technology has been undergoing numerous medical trials.
Mansson tells me that Flow is looking the same as the UK's National Health Service.
Although the NHS website is a method of possible treatment, and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) asserts that there are no major safety concerns, it
You are strongly advised note Major Depressive Disorder. Anyone with a "pre-existing neurological" condition, or with a broken headset, should be especially wary.
I have been lying on the side of caution here – as someone who is more familiar with anxiety treatments.
However, both the British Journal of Psychiatry and New England Journal of Medicine have published the results of randomly-controlled trials.
Both tests have been worked out by several hundred patients, with the British Journal of Psychiatry calling the treatment "comparable" to "antidepressant drug treatment in primary care."
The New England Journal of Medicine, however, was more hesitant, reporting "more adverse" effects – such as "skin redness, tinnitus, and nervousness […] and new-onset mania "- without obvious improvements. Another study published by online journal Brain Stimulation is a prone to seizures or epilepsy.
Flow's CEO Daniel Mansson says the company has been working for over two years, making sure that all the safety standards and good practices are agreed on in June 2019.
But some scepticism is appropriate, given the inconsistent results of the mental health treatments available in the UK and Europe.
Depression, for all its prevalence in our society, is really not understood very well – and there is a host of different strategies for tackling the affliction.
You can be deep in psychoanalysis, understand the underlying psychological effects of the disease.
You may also be asked to suggest these things when you need them. So what do you want to do? – Do not worry, do not worry.
"The combination of the brain stimulation headset and therapy app," Mansson says, "creates a new, very powerful, but also very safe, at-home treatment solution."
There's been a huge increase in kind of self-care and meditation apps like HeadSpace – frequently recommended by GPs in the UK – offering ways to manage stress, pain, or anxiety.
Naturally, cost becomes an issue when patients are expected to find healthcare solutions outside of national health services. The Flow headset costs £ 399 (around $ 480 / AU $ 710) without any supplementary costs – while the HeadSpace app, by comparison, will set you back for $ 95 / £ 72 / AU $ 149 for a year's subscription.
Manson makes sure only one tool is in the toolbox, but it is a commercially-available hardware product, especially if the costs are scaled down.
"Right now, we have a shift from pharmacological treatments to more digital therapy-based alternatives," says Mansson, "which empower patients and motivate them to treat their own comfort.
"Given that brain stimulation devices (if medically approved) offer few side effects and are affordable and accessible, it makes perfect sense that devices like Flow will become increasingly popular."
So … should I get one?
Well, not off your own bat. The jury's out on the effectiveness of tDCS, even if it's slowly gaining more traction as a potential aid for major depressive disorder.
Given the growing push towards more digitally-based therapies and care treatments, the symptoms suggest that there will be more treatments like this.
But what can I do if I do not know what to do?
For more information, you can head to the Flow website.