Could an application of headphones and smartphones really treat depression? That is the statement made by Flow for his medically approved brain stimulation headphones, a device that pushes his neurons with a mild electric current, and one that he can buy and use in his own home.
For more information on major depressive disorder, you can also read more at the 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 have heard of electric shock from headphones that help you juggle, but can a hardware product really succeed instead of, or even begin to help, existing medical treatments for depression?
To understand the health potential Benefits of a product like this, I spoke with the CEO of Flow, Daniel Mansson, while driving a Flow headset to get an idea of the hardware offered.
What is the Flow headset?
The Flow headphones resemble a little the miniature VR headphones, except that the white curved visor is only on its forehead, with a band that hooks on the top of the head to hold it in place.
The box also comes with a single-use cloth pad box to place between your skin and the suction cups on the headphones, since the skin probably wouldn't respond well to directing electric currents.
The treatments last about 30 minutes, "with 18 sessions over a period of 6 weeks" (three times per week) or "as long as necessary". The headset is designed to be used in conjunction with a virtual therapy application, which helps inform users about depression and the type of "lifestyle changes" that the patient can make with their diet, exercise regime, hygiene of sleep and meditation (the application is only in iOS)
There is something a little disconcerting in the idea of self-administering a mild form of shock therapy, but there are ways of existing treatment using the same underlying technology: transcranial direct current stimulation (or TDCS).
This treatment is a non-invasive way to stimulate the brain with mild electrical currents, using battery-powered electrodes.
The Flow website states that "people diagnosed with depression often have lower activity in the left frontal cortex of their brain. The headset delivers a soft electrical signal that activates neurons and rebalances lobe activity. frontal.
"The earpiece is based on a well-researched brain stimulation technology called transcranial direct current stimulation that, in clinical studies, has been shown to reliably improve depression symptoms."
Wait, Is this something real?
If the claims sound like science fiction, technology has undergone numerous medical trials, and the e Clairvoyance is enough for Flow headphones to be approved for medical use in the United Kingdom and Europe.
Mansson tells me that Flow is seeking similar medical approval in the US. UU., And is in talks with the National Health Service of the United Kingdom to offer prescription headphones.
The treatment is listed on the NHS website as a possible treatment method, and the National Institute for Health lth and Care Excellence (NICE) states that "there are no major safety problems", although patients should be taken through the risks and associated side effects.
It is strongly recommended not to use headphones without the approval of a doctor and an official diagnosis of major depressive disorder. Anyone with a "pre-existing" neurological condition, or with broken skin at the point of contact with the headset, must be especially cautious.
I was wrong on the side of caution here, as someone more familiar with anxiety treatments than those used for depression, so I can't talk about effectiveness for myself.
However, both British Journal of Psychiatry and New England Journal of Medicine have published the results of randomized controlled trials using the type of brain stimulation used in the headphones Flow
Both the trials cited above worked with several hundred patients (289 in the first, 245 in the second), and the British Journal of Psychiatry called the treatment "comparable" to "pharmacological treatment antidepressant in care primary".
The New England Journal of Medicine, however, was more hesitant, reporting "more adverse" effects, such as "skin redness, tinnitus and nervousness […] and mania again," without obvious improvements compared to Other forms in therapy. Another study published by the online journal Brain Stimulation advises against its use for patients prone to seizures or epilepsy.
The CEO of Flow, Daniel Mansson, says that the company worked for more than two years to "ensure that all safety standards and good manufacturing practices were met and documented" before obtaining the seal of approval in June of 2019.
But some skepticism is appropriate, given the inconsistent results of previously available mental health treatments for patients in the United Kingdom and Europe.
Depression, despite its prevalence in our society (the Organization World Health estimates that 300 million people live with the condition worldwide), it really is not very well understood, and there are a number of different strategies to address affliction.
Psychoanalysis may be recommended in depth to understand the underlying psychological causes, cognitive behavioral therapy to address behavioral symptoms or medication as a solution Chemistry, if not a combination of the three, with varying degrees of success.  These things may not be recommended when you need them, given how difficult it can be to diagnose a mental illness. Therefore, offering a DIY solution that you can buy yourself, avoiding lengthy and potentially triggering consultations, even if you are not meant to do so without medical approval, offers convenience in its own right.
"The combination of brain stimulation The application of headphones and therapy," says Mansson, "creates a treatment solution in the new home, very powerful, but also very safe."
There has been great growth in the type of self-care and meditation applications such as HeadSpace, often actively recommended by general practitioners in the United Kingdom, offering ways to control stress, pain or anxiety .
Naturally, cost becomes a problem when it is expected that n patients will find health solutions outside national health services . The Flow headset costs £ 399 (around $ 480 / AU $ 710), at no additional cost, while the HeadSpace app, in comparison, will cost you $ 95 / £ 72 / AU $ 149 for a one-year subscription.
Mansson makes sure to say that Flow is only a tool "in the treatment toolbox", but as a commercially available hardware product, it has the potential to change the way patients commonly receive treatment, especially if The costs are reduced.
"Right now we are seeing a shift from pharmacological treatments to more alternatives based on digital therapy," says Mansson, "which trains patients and motivates them to treat their own condition from the comfort of their home.  "Since brain stimulation devices (if medically approved) offer few side effects and are affordable and accessible, it makes perfect sense that devices such as Flow become increasingly popular."
So … should I get one?
Well, not from your own bat. The jury is beyond the effectiveness of tDCS, even if it is slowly gaining more traction as a potential aid for major depressive disorder.
However, given the growing momentum towards more digital-based therapies and care treatments, the signs suggest that there will be "There will be more treatments like these suggested by doctors onwards.
But neither Flow nor I would recommend taking this on a whim, and you should really wait until your doctor recommends it, to help you with your specific needs.  For more information, you can go to the Flow website.