Neurofeedback for Depression

Depression is the general term for a group of separate but related mental illnesses, although most people associate the word with one specific condition: major depressive disorder or major depression. Doctors and researchers continually explore new and improved methods of combating this condition, which affects millions of Americans. One new approach to depression treatment is a brain visualization technique called neurofeedback. Current research indicates that use of this technique may provide a significant benefit for many affected individuals.

Major Depression Facts

People with major depression experience a range of potentially debilitating symptoms, including:

  • A seriously “down” or depressed mood
  • A reduced ability to feel pleasurable experiences
  • Altered sleep patterns
  • Altered eating patterns
  • Low energy
  • A reduced ability to concentrate or think clearly

These symptoms appear for at least two weeks, and may occur for just one episode or recur in repeated episodes over time. Overall, major depression ranks as one of the world’s most disabling mental health conditions. It currently affects roughly 16 million American adults in any given year. This number represents nearly 7% of the country’s total adult population.

Neurofeedback Essentials

Neurofeedback training, or NFT, is the common name for a group of techniques that rely on real-time imaging of brain activity to help you recognize and change damaging thought patterns or mental habits. During an NFT session, a trained technician places electrodes on your scalp and earlobes. These electrodes don’t send electricity into your brain. Instead, they take readings of your brain activity and send those readings to a monitor that provides a visual interpretation of that activity. Gradually, NFT uses this form of feedback to teach you to understand what your brain function “looks” like when you’re in a particular mood or frame of mind. It also uses visual feedback to teach you how to consciously alter your brain function and change your mental state in positive ways.

Does It Work?

Numerous studies support the usefulness of neurofeedback as a depression treatment. For example, the authors of a 2014 study published in the journal Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience found that use of one specific form of NFT may improve depression symptoms by as much as 30% over a one-month course of treatment. A 2015 study published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience found that a music-based form of NFT may bring about a roughly 17% improvement in the depression symptoms of elderly adults. NFT also shows promise as a way to help doctors and researchers improve their understanding of how depression affects the brain’s vast and complex network of individual nerve cells. However, it’s important to note that NFT is in its infancy, and mental health experts have much to learn about how to use it to its full effect in depression treatment.   Sources: National Institute of Mental Health: Major Depression Among Adults Journal of Neuropathy: What Is Neurofeedback?  Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience: Neurofeedback and Networks of Depression Frontiers in Neuroscience: Musical Neurofeedback for Treating Depression in Elderly People Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics: Neurofeedback Training for Major Depressive Disorder – Recent Developments and Future Directions 

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