Depression doesn’t care how old you are, how much money you make, what you do for a living, or where you live. Research is clear that depressive disorders are highly prevalent and disabling conditions in all communities regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or socioeconomic status (Casano & Fava, 2002; Kessler, Berglund et all, 2005; Pratt & Brody, 2008). At the least, quality of life suffers. At worst, people commit suicide. Various factors can contribute to the development of depression such as genetics, brain structures, trauma, life circumstances, drug and alcohol abuse as well as a host of other medical conditions (Craighead, Miklowitz, & Craighead, 2008). Left untreated, depression can be devastating not only for the person with the disorder but also for the family and society as a whole.
Neurofeedback is an effective treatment for depression without the risks and side effects typically associated with medications (Karavidis et al., 2007). It offers a new modality for addressing depressive conditions and appears to be effective regardless of the pathway by which the person has become depressed. This includes results from a genetic pre-disposition, early childhood trauma and/or a subsequent traumatic events, head injuries and other insults to the brain such as chemotherapy, drug and alcohol abuse or stroke as well as other medical conditions (Craighead, Miklowitz, & Craighead, 2008).
Although the most common approaches to treat depression are pharmacotherapy (i.e., medication) and psychotherapy (i.e., talk therapy) which are effective treatments for many people (Rupke, Blecke, & Renfrow, 2006) there are those who do not respond favorably to them. Studies have shown that patients on medication tend to relapse once the medication stops. Many people have found that adding neurofeedback to their treatment plan can supplement or reduce medication. In addition, neurofeedback is also indicated for those clients such as pregnant women who are counseled to avoid certain medications by their doctors.
Before beginning treatment, we need to get an overview of how our client’s brain is functioning. At BiofeedbackWORKS in Virginia we use the Quantitative Electroencephalography (QEEG) to identify the most significant problem areas, looking for the most outstanding abnormalities of brainwave activity. Neurofeedback training consists of employing protocols created to normalize these specific abnormalities. Since no two brains are alike, our protocols are individualized to target each client’s specific brain patterns.
While difficult life circumstances can certainly lead to depression, research shows that when there is a biological predisposition to depression, often the right and left frontal areas of the brain are not equally activated (Hammond, 2005). Another name for this is “asymmetry.” Think of trying to drive your car with the tires on one side considerably underinflated. Keeping your car on track would be difficult. You might feel as if you were constantly being pulled to one side or the other. Because of the asymmetry in brain activity, individuals who are depressed are more in touch with their negative emotions (Hammond, 2005). This is a result of more activity in the right hemisphere of the brain than the left side. To make things worse, when negative life events occur to someone who has a frontal alpha asymmetry brain wave pattern (e.g., more alpha brain waves on one side than the other) depression is much more likely to develop. At BiofeedbackWORKS in Virginia, we have a variety of neurofeedback treatment choices available to deal with depression.
Compelling evidence shows that after using neurofeedback protocols specifically developed to reduce susceptibility toward negative emotions, changes in depression were not only reversed but also maintained at the end of treatment (Hammond, 2005). In addition, these significant improvements continued to be persistent on 1 to 5 year follow-ups after the treatment ended. This is particularly relevant when compared with pharmacological treatments, as many studies have shown that patients on medication tend to relapse once the medication stops.
Many individuals can experience a temporary feeling of sadness, dysphoria, apathy, grief or loneliness, and might even remark they are depressed (Craighead, Miklowitz, & Craighead, 2008). However, clinical depression or Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is a serious mental health condition characterized by a combination of psychological, behavioral and physical symptoms of greater intensity, depth and duration than just feeling “blue”, sad, or going through a rough patch.
A multitude of contributing disorders or diseases add to the prevalence of depression in people experiencing these disorders. These may include anxiety, chronic pain, PTSD, ADD/ADHD, thyroid imbalance, Lyme disease, learning disorders, and migraines. Layering medications upon medications to resolve symptoms for co-existing issues can produce unintended, negative outcomes. Neurofeedback creates an alternate approach to helping relieve depression, regardless of origin (situational or genetic) or comorbid diagnosis.
American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text rev.). Washington, DC: Author
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Craighead, W. E., Ritschel, L. A., Arnarson, E. O., & Gillepsie, C. F. (2008). Major Depressive Dissorder. In W. E. Craighead, D. J. Miklowitz, & L. W. Craighead (Ed.), Psychopathology: History, diagnosis, and empirical foundations (pp. 279-328).
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Karavidis, M. K., Lehrer, P. M., Vaschillo, E., Vaschillo, B., Marin, H., Buyske, S., Malinovsky, I., Radvanski, D., & Hassett, A. (2007). Preliminary Results of an Open Label Study of Hear Rate Variability Biofeedback for Treatment of Major Depression. Applied Psychophysiological Biofeedback, 32, 19-30.
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Pratt, L. A., & Brody, D. J. (2008). Depression in the United States Household Population, 2005-2006 (NCHS Data Brief No. 7). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db07.htm
Rupke, S. T., Blecke, D., & Renfrow, M. (2006). Cognitive Therapy for Depression. American Family Physician, 73, 83-86.