Can medical devices cure your anxiety?

16 Feb 2022 4min read

Each week 1 in 6 people experience a mental health problem, with anxiety and depression being the most common. The main types of treatment for mental health problems are the use of medication and therapy, but what about the role of medical devices? Despite evidence for efficacy being slim, the use of medical devices for treating mental health is clearly something to explore.

Medication for mental health conditions is routinely prescribed, with the goal of treating symptoms, reducing symptoms and preventing recurrence. Despite these advantages, medication can have a number of drawbacks: not only can it have potential side effects, but it may not work for everyone. Further, the fundamental aim of medication is to treat symptoms as opposed to understanding the problem. This is where therapy can help.

There are many different types of therapy including cognitive-behavioural, humanistic and art therapy. The fundamental advantage of therapy over medicine is that it focuses on understanding the problem and determining why and how it happens. Despite its benefits, therapy also has its drawbacks: when having multiple sessions, it can become costly and typically must continue for months or years to deliver its full benefits.

So what about medical devices? Predominantly medical devices are used to help with physical and physiological issues. Recently a number of medical devices have been introduced to help with mental health issues, which can be used at home and as an alternative to medication and therapy.

Cervella and Alpha-Stim are two medical devices that have recently been developed to treat conditions such as anxiety and depression. Cervella sends pulses to the cranium through ear pads on noise-cancelling headphones. With the potential to reach a 58% reduction in anxiety and a 47% improvement in depression, this gadget has shown to be particularly effective. Alpha-Stim is a cranial electrotherapy stimulation device that has a similar function. The device also sends pulses to the cranium and is used via clips that attach to the earlobes. Findings have shown similar positive results, with 82% of participants seeing a 50% decrease in depression.

Alongside these products, there is now a rise in medical device software as a way to provide digital therapy. The rise of these products have also seen the federal agency responsible for public health (FDA) approval, with the FDA stating that they encourage “the development of mobile medical apps (MMAs) that improve health care and provide consumers and health care professionals with valuable health information.”

Types of medical device software being created for digital therapy include EndeavorRx and Somryst. EndeavorRX is a video game app designed to treat ADHD through activities to help attention and focus. Being the first ever video game app to receive FDA approval, alongside numerous peer reviews, this app provides promising results for the effectiveness of medical device software to treat ADHD. Targeting insomnia, Somryst has also been given FDA approval. Designed to provide the brain with high quality sleep through six cognitive behavioural therapy sessions, this app has also provided promising results to treat sleep mental health problems.

While the apps require users to have a prescription from healthcare providers, and so cannot currently be a full substitute for therapy services, they may be able to supplement medication and offer additional therapy support.

Medical Device for mental health

So, what does this all mean? With medical devices already being developed and finding significant results for the treatment of mental health issues, it is clear that there is a lot of promise in this area. As more evidence becomes available, we may see a larger emphasis on the use of medical devices in conjunction with medication and therapy.

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