Non-pharmacological biological treatment approaches to difficult-to-treat depression

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleOtherpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


There has been substantial recent interest in novel brain stimulation treatments for difficult-to-treat depression. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a well established, effective treatment for severe depression. ECT's problematic side-effect profile and questions regarding optimal administration methods continue to be investigated. Magnetic seizure therapy, although very early in development, shows promise, with potentially similar efficacy to ECT but fewer side effects. Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) and repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) are clinically available in some countries. Limited research suggests VNS has potentially long-lasting antidepressant effects in a small group of patients. Considerable research supports the efficacy of rTMS. Both techniques require further study of optimal treatment parameters. Transcranial direct current stimulation may provide a low-cost antidepressant option if its efficacy is substantiated in larger samples. Deep brain stimulation is likely to remain reserved for patients with the most severe and difficult-to-treat depression, requiring further exploration of administration methods and its role in depression therapy. New and innovative forms of brain stimulation, including low-intensity ultrasound, low-field magnetic stimulation and epidural stimulation of the cortical surface, are in early stages of exploration and are yet to move into the clinical domain. Ongoing work is required to define which brain stimulation treatments are likely to be most useful, and in which patient groups. Clinical service development of brain stimulation treatments will likely be inconsistent and variable.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S48-S51
Number of pages4
JournalThe Medical Journal of Australia
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 16 Sept 2013

Cite this