Although it sounds like something out of a science-fiction movie, deep-brain stimulation actually is a relatively new treatment for depression and other conditions involving the brain. Performed as part of clinical trials at accredited universities and centers, it is still in the experimental stage and, as such, remains controversial. The Food and Drug Administration has not sanctioned it for treatment of depression, although it is approved for the treatment of other maladies.

What exactly is deep-brain stimulation? The Mayo Clinic, where it was first performed in the late '90s, likens it to receiving a pacemaker for your brain. First, the patient has electrodes implanted in the affected regions of his brain. Next, he receives a neurostimulator in his chest, near his collarbone. The idea is that the neurostimulator sends regular electrical impulses to the electrodes in the brain, which somehow "reset" the affected areas so they function normally. Doctors have had success with deep-brain stimulation, asserting that some patients with neurological diseases such as Parkinson's, tremor and dystonia (a condition in which the muscles move and twitch involuntarily), who underwent the procedure experienced improved mood. For this reason, some recommend deep-brain stimulation as a possible solution for depression in patients who have not responded to talk therapy, antidepressants or electroconvulsive therapy.

If you and your doctor decide together that you're a candidate for deep-brain stimulation, what can you expect? First, realize that deep-brain stimulation is a two-part surgery and should be considered carefully. You'll be given a local anesthetic and kept awake during the brain portion of the surgery, during which your head will be placed in a frame for stability. Doctors will drill two holes in your skull through which to place the electrodes, and may talk to you during the procedure to ensure that the correct areas of your brain are being stimulated. For the chest portion of the surgery, you'll be given general anesthesia.

It may take several months before you notice an improvement in your depression, however, and scientists caution that not everyone will get better, especially those who have suffered from depression for a long time. As with any surgeries, deep-brain stimulation carries risks. Possible complications include bleeding in the brain, stroke, seizure, incision scarring, and infection. And some people who have had deep-brain stimulation report experiencing panic attacks, mania, difficulties with speech or movement, and increased thoughts of suicide. Furthermore, the long-term effects of deep-brain stimulation are still unknown.

Source: The Mayo Clinic,