New treatment options for depression and anxiety are creating a lot of buzz and giving some patients a real jolt. That's the impact Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) is making and studies now support tDCS as a safe, effective treatment option for even tough cases of depression and anxiety.

Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation is a non-invasive form of brain stimulation used for patients with brain injuries, strokes, learning disorders, and mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Electrodes are placed on the patient's scalp to transmit weak electrical currents directly into specific areas of the brain. This stimulates neural activity in the stimulated area, which causes the brain to operate differently. Patients remain awake for the non-painful treatment, which lasts approximately 20 minutes.  

Several recent studies have demonstrated tDCS as effective for treating major depression. For example, medical researchers from the University of New South Wales and the Black Dog Institute of Psychiatry recently conducted the largest study of tDCS and found that up to half of depressed participants experienced substantial improvements after receiving treatment.  They studied 64 clinically depressed patients who had previously received two other antidepressant therapies and experienced no improvement of their symptoms.  Half the subjects in this study received tDCS and the other received placebo treatments. 

The researchers discovered that those who received tDCS experienced significant improvement of their symptoms compared to those receiving placebo treatments. In addition, the tDCS recipients also reported a marked improvement in their abilities to think more clearly, quickly and creatively. Some patients also reported elimination of chronic pain conditions and improvement of learning difficulties. The effects seem to be cumulative, meaning benefits were seen after a few weeks of daily treatment, but even greater results were experienced at six weeks. After several weeks of daily treatment were completed, participants received weekly "booster" treatments and results lasted for months.

tDCS is usually performed in a psychiatrist's, neurologist's or other health practitioner's office, though do-it-yourself equipment is popping up online. It's considered safe and relatively inexpensive, especially when compared with some other antidepressant therapies.  Some people who have not been diagnosed with physical or mental health disorders are using tDCS to boost their brainpower, professional or academic performance and efficiency. Further studies are being done to determine other uses for tDCS, including treatment of bipolar disorder, migraines, and other chronic conditions.

Could tDCS help you? More research is needed to determine long-term impacts of tDCS treatment, but it appears to be safe, effective and beneficial for a wide range of patients without producing side effects typical with other types of antidepressant therapy. Ask your physician whether tDCS treatment could benefit you.


Journal of Affective Disorders. 2011 Nov;134(1-3):459-63.

Fronto-extracephalic transcranial direct current stimulation as a treatment for major depression: an open-label pilot study.

Martin DM, Alonzo A, Mitchell PB, Sachdev P, Gálvez V, Loo CK.

Black Dog Institute, School of Psychiatry, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.

tDCS-Induced Analgesia and Electrical Fields in Pain-Related Neural Networks in Chronic Migraine.

Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, 2012;

Alexandre F. DaSilva, Mariana E. Mendonca, Soroush Zaghi, Mariana Lopes, Marcos Fabio DosSantos, Egilius L. Spierings, Zahid Bajwa, Abhishek Datta, Marom Bikson, Felipe Fregni.