Patients are being offered an innovative treatment for depression, without the side effects of anti-depressant drugs, as part of a pioneering project.
Led by the Research and Innovation (R&I) team at Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust (NHFT), the project uses a ‘Flow’ headset to deliver transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) treatment, which is backed by over 30 years of research and clinical evidence to show it is safe and effective.
Patients use Flow themselves at home for 30 minutes, five times per week for three weeks. After the initial three-week period, patients usually reduce this to three sessions per week for three weeks, they can then stop using or continue to use for as long as required.
Flow works by using tDCS to stimulate the brain and help restore activity to relieve depressive symptoms.
Patients use the Flow App to control the headset, monitor their progress and depression symptoms. Flow incorporates an evidence backed healthy lifestyle behaviour training app which includes training modules on ‘Behaviour activation’, ‘Mindfulness’, ‘Physical exercise for your brain’, ‘An anti-depression diet’, and ‘Therapeutic sleep’.
In a first for the NHS, NHFT’s community mental health teams (CMHT), Specialist Perinatal Mental Health Service and Maternal Loss Psychology Service are offering Flow to their patients with a diagnosis of depression and evaluating the feasibility and impact. The treatment has seen significant improvements on measures of depression severity, meaningful activity functioning, and quality of life.
Will McIlhiney, a Community Mental Health Practitioner, said: “Being able to offer Flow has been very well received from our patient group. One of the common themes I notice when I discuss Flow with a patient is that people feel optimistic that there are other options for them when they have not recovered with anti-depressants alone or found them intolerable. Many of our patients are interested in an intervention which is not a medication or Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). The choice is very valuable to them.
“Once using Flow, patients have generally reported positive outcomes; we know of course that it does not work for everyone but there is significantly less concern about side effects than when exploring other traditional medication options. The convenience of using the device is also well regarded when compared to other options.”
“As a practitioner, having the Flow clinical portal and seeing the engagement with the treatment is so incredibly useful. Being able to monitor usage as well as regularly updated psychometric scoring really helps monitor patients. We can also see good engagement with the CBT based modules in the app which helps us when we work with patients that they have some understanding of techniques already that we might otherwise take time to explore in a session. Having an intervention which is effective, measurable and with limited side effects is very promising. The platform is simple to use and review to change the stimulation schedule as needed. From a service perspective the headset has been easy to offer.”