Dr. Sheth said the first patient, who got the device in March 2020, is now “remarkably well”, maintaining a relationship and becoming a father. To test the effect of the placebo, the researchers gradually turned off the stimulation to one brain area without the patient knowing when. Dr. Sheth said his depression was “getting worse” until he needed “rescue”. After stimulation resumed, it improved, indicating that the effect was “definitely related to stimulation”.
Several months ago, Sarah also needed rescuing. Shortly after entering the study stage Where the device is turned off or left for six weeks without the participant knowing which “suicidal thoughts returned,” Sarah said. Her family tried to take her to the hospital, but the hospitals were full. “Things were really bad,” Sarah said.
“Her depression has worsened very sharply,” said Dr. Skangos. She said she couldn’t reveal whether the stimulus was off or on, but said a technician at the hardware company was sent to Sarah’s home to “make a rescue change.”
Sarah said she got better again after that.
Over the course of the year, the number of times Sarah’s device detected depression-related brain activity per day Dr Skangos said the stimulus provided had decreased somewhat, but it was still significant. However, on some days Sarah doesn’t need the maximum amount the device is set to save: 300 times or a total of 30 minutes per day. (It stops automatically around 6pm because the evening stimulus made her too sleepy.)
The researchers, who have shared two others so far, said longer-term and more detailed data on Sarah will be published later.
The device was intentionally set so that Sarah wouldn’t feel the stimulation, but she believes she knows it happened because she later developed a sense of “emotional distance” that keeps negative feelings “segmented,” she said.
She also said, “I feel alert.” “I feel like I exist.”
That’s a “really good sign,” Dr. Dougherty said, who is considering using a similar approach for depression and possibly addiction. “Feelings are still there, but instead of staying like mud, they run like water.”