Devices Purportedly Zap Anxiety, Depression

CHICAGO (CBS) — Are you depressed or anxious and just can’t sleep? Believe it or not, electricity may be the remedy.

CBS 2’s Mary Kay Kleist reports on an at-home treatment that makes a difference for some people.

Several times a week, Karen Parziale uses an “electro-therapy” device at home. She says it relieved her depression.  

“I was very depressed.  I had a personal relationship end after 8 years, and I just really wasn’t myself,” she says. “I sort of describe it as this: My world was black and white and now I sort of see color.” 

Michael Pietrzak uses the same device and says it has helped him with insomnia, irritability and anxiety. 

“I don’t tighten up as much in the shoulders anymore,” he says. “My face isn’t gnarling up and I don’t have those running and racing thoughts.”

Clinical psychologist Sam Effarah says about 30 percent of his patients use these devices. He says if you have low- to mid-range anxiety, you would notice a change – feelings of relaxation — within minutes. After a few weeks, your brain waves are “fairly regulated.”

“I have a lot of people who come in with racing thoughts,” Effarah says. “I can’t fall asleep, I can’t stop thinking.”

Here’s how they work. Low voltage current is transmitted to the brain through clips that are attached to the ears or through dampened sponges applied to the temples.

The devices deliver about one-thousandth the power of hospital machines used for traditional electro-convulsive therapy. Some doctors are not convinced they’re effective.

“There are some reports of people who experience relief from it, but there is no scientifically demonstrated, compelling scientific evidence that it is an effective treatment,” psychiatrist Herbert Fox says.

Manufacturers say doctors are prescribing these devices for patients who have failed with traditional drug treatment or who are looking for alternatives.  Pietrzak says he feels like a different person.

Alpha-Stim, the manufacturer of one of the devices on the market, says there have been 55 studies done on this therapy indicating nine of 10 people get some relief.

Some people have experienced a mild headache after using the device. A device costs $600 to $1,000 and is covered by some insurance.

  • Terry Urba

    Either this device or one similar to this has been around for at least five or six
    years for use by people with depression, anxiety and pain associated with fibromyalgia and it has helped. The muscles (upper back near occipital area)
    are relaxed by the electrical pulses which results in less pain which then decreases the anxiety and depression.

    • Jim Kearney

      When you are in a state of anxiety, your muscles naturally contract. When you are relaxed, and the parasympathetic nervous system is engaged, the muscles relax. This same effect happens with meditation, or massage etc.

      You are putting the cart before the horse, and thinking too mechanically.

      Mind relaxed = muscles relaxed. Very simple. And our brains ARE electrical.

  • Terry Urba

    Doctors who are skeptical of this device are probably not involved much with pain management. Anxiety and depression do cause physical pain. Brain imageing has been used to show this. Some patients get results faster than others with the device. For some the changes are slower and subtle but changes do occur in the brain which bring relief. There isn’t any pain connected with the actual use of the device. If a headache results it’s a minor trade-off compared to the pain from anxiety or depression. Very good results can come from bio-feedback after this device is used.

  • Richard Landis

    I have used the Alpha-Stim SCS to deal with stress and insomnia due to high time-pressure job. When I used to put my head down on the pillow at night, that was the signal for “the committee” to wake up. All the thoughts of the day and planing for the next day kept me up. I was not able to meditate despite multiple attempts to be trained to quiet my mind. After 3 weeks with the SCS, my mind became silent 24 hours a day. I now fall asleep easily and stay asleep just using it 20 minutes, 3 times a week.

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