Could a headset and a smartphone deal with depression? This is Flow's claim for its medical-approved brain-stimulating headset, a device that dims your neurons with a gentle electrical current that you can buy and use in your own home.
For more information on major depression disorder, you can also read more at mental health charity Mind, the NHS website, or WebMD.
Flow is a medical technology company founded in 2016, and is currently based in Sweden. Its CEO, clinical psychologist Daniel Mansson, founded the company after writing his master's thesis on brain stimulation, and has years of experience working at the crossroads between psychology and software.
We've heard of electric shakes from headphones that help you judge, but can hardware really be successful instead, or even help to help existing prescription medicines for depression?
To get my head around the potential health benefits of a product like this, I spoke to Flow CEO Daniel Mansson as I addressed a Flow headset to understand the device on offer.
What is the flow headset?
The Flow headset looks a bit like a miniature VR headset, except the curved white visor sits just on your forehead, with a band contoured over the top of your head to hold it in place.
The box also comes with a box of disposable sheets for inserting the skin and the suction pads on the headset, considering that your skin probably won't respond well to direct electrical currents.
Treatments last about 30 minutes, "with 18 sessions over a 6 week period" (three times a week) or "as long as needed". The headset is designed to be used in tandem with a virtual therapy app that helps inform users about depression, and the kind of "lifestyle changes" the patient can make with his diet, exercise regimen, sleep hygiene and meditation (the app is iOS only).
There is something slightly unnerving about the idea of administering a mild form of shock therapy, but there are existing forms of treatment that use the same sub-technology: transcranial direct-current stimulation (or TDCS).
This treatment is a non-viable way to stimulate the brain with smooth electrical currents, using battery electrodes.
Flow's website states that "People diagnosed with depression often have lower activity in the left frontal cortex of their brain. The headset delivers a smooth electrical signal that activates neurons and re-balances activity in the frontal lobe.
"The headset is based on a well-researched brain stimulation technology called Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation, which in clinical studies has been shown to reliably improve symptoms of depression."
Hang on, is this a real thing?
The claims sound a bit scientific, the tea hash has undergone many medical trials, with the evidence sufficient to get the Flow headset approved for medical use in the UK and Europe.
Mansson tells me that Flow is seeking similar medical approval in the United States, and is in talks with the UK National Health Service to offer the prescription headset.
The treatment is listed on the NHS website as a possible method of treatment, and the National Institute for Health and Care (NICE) claims that there are "no serious safety concerns", although patients should be treated with the associated risks and side effects. it.
You are strongly advised no use the headset without physician approval and official diagnosis of Major Depression Disorder. Anyone with a "pre-existing neurological" condition, or with broken skin at the point of contact with the headset, must be particularly discouraged.
I was wrong about the caution here – because someone more familiar with anxiety treatments than those used for depression – so I can't speak for myself about the effectiveness.
Yet both British Journal of Psychiatry and New England Journal of Medicine published the results of randomized controlled trials using the kind of brain stimulation used in the flow-through headset.
Both of the tests mentioned above worked with several hundred patients (289 in the first, 245 in the second), with the British Journal of Psychiatry calling the treatment "comparable" to "antidepressant 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 neonatal mania ”- with no obvious improvements compared to other forms of therapy. Another study published by the online journal Brain Stimulation advised against its use for patients prone to seizures or epilepsy.
Flow CEO Daniel Mansson says the company has been working for more than two years on "ensuring that all safety standards and good manufacturing practices are met and documented" before receiving the seal of approval in June 2019.
But some skepticism is appropriate, given the inconsistent results of the mental health treatments previously available to patients in the UK and Europe.
Depression, due to its importance in our society (the World Heath Organization estimates 300 million people live with the condition worldwide), is not really well understood – and there are many strategies for dealing with the problem.
You may recommend in-depth psychoanalysis to understand the underlying psychological causes, given cognitive behavioral therapy to treat behavioral symptoms, or given medicine as a chemical solution – if not a combination of the three, with varying successes.
You also couldn't recommend these things when you need them, considering how difficult a mental illness can be to diagnose. So by offering a DIY solution, you can buy yourself – avoiding lengthy and potentially time-consuming consultations, even if you don't intend to do so without medical approval – offering an opportunity of your own.
"The combination of the brain stimulation headset and therapeutic application," says Mansson, "creates a new, very powerful, but also very safe, treatment solution."
There is a huge increase in self-care and meditation programs like HeadSpace – often actively recommended by doctors in the UK – offering ways to manage stress, pain or anxiety.
Naturally, cost becomes an issue when patients are expected to find medical solutions outside of national health services. The Flow headset costs £ 399 (around $ 480 / AU $ 710), without any additional costs – while the HeadSpace app compares you to $ 95 / £ 72 / AU $ 149 for a yearly subscription.
Mansson claims to say that Flow is only one tool "in the treatment tool," but as a commercially available device, it can change the way patients usually receive treatment, especially if the costs are lowered.
"To date, we are seeing a transition from pharmacological treatments to more digital therapeutic alternatives," says Mansson, "which empower patients and motivate them to treat their own condition from the comfort of their own home.
"Given that brain boosters (if medically approved) offer few side effects and are affordable and affordable, it makes perfect sense that devices like Fluid will become increasingly popular."
So … should I get one?
Well, don't put away your own bat. The jury outlines the efficacy of tDCS, even if it is slowly gaining more traction as a potential help for a major depressive disorder.
Due to the growing push for more digital therapies and care treatments, however, the signs suggest that there will be more treatments like these suggested by physicians moving forward.
But neither Flow nor I would recommend picking this up on a whim, and you really should wait until your doctor recommends it, to help your specific needs.
For more information you can go to the Website flow.