When you visit a doctor for a minor illness or injury, the process is typically straightforward: you describe your symptoms, your doctor runs the appropriate diagnostic tests, and you are recommended a specific treatment. Depending on your ailment, you may be given a prescription for antibiotics; an ice pack and an ace bandage; or instructions to stay hydrated and ride it out. Generally speaking, you are told what the best course of action is, and there is little confusion about how to proceed.
Navigating mental health care, on the other hand, puts more of the decision-making power in your hands. If you’ve been diagnosed with depression or anxiety, your practitioner will likely present you with a whole menu of treatments: medications; psychotherapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT); transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS); electroconvulsive therapy (ECT); or a combination of some or all of those options. With pharmaceuticals, there are even more choices to be made: which drug should you start with? At which dosage? How long will you try it before determining if it is a good fit for you? Which side effects are you willing to tolerate, and which are non-starters?
Unlike with a minor injury or illness, there is no single recommended course of action when it comes to depression and anxiety. And though the availability of options may seem overwhelming at first, the truth is that you have the power to make the choice that is the best for your health, your lifestyle, and your own definition of wellbeing.
Let’s take a closer look at the options that are available to you.
Medications are likely one of the first treatments that will be recommended to you. Though there are many on the market, with their own unique characteristics and chemical makeup, some things are true for most (if not all) of these drugs:
- High likelihood of side effects ranging from mild to severe
- High risk of addiction or withdrawal symptoms (if/when you stop)
- High relapse rate of depression or anxiety after discontinuation
What makes pharmaceuticals appealing to some is that they are easy to take and tend to be low-cost for both patients and insurers. With medications, it typically takes about 6 weeks for patients to feel better, according to the FDA: roughly 1-2 weeks for anxiety, and 14-24 weeks for depression. That’s up to six months of consistent use of medications before experiencing relief from depression.
Typically about 33% of patients do not respond to medications even after taking them at the recommended dose and for the right amount of time.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is often suggested in conjunction with medications. It involves one-on-one sessions with a therapist, typically for one hour weekly. Though there are no significant side effects to speak of, it can be time-consuming and burdensome to find a therapist who is a good “fit,” and then to travel to and attend weekly sessions.
Insurance will typically cover part of the cost of CBT, with patients paying a co-pay. While inexpensive over the short-term, these weekly payments add up over time for the patient, and are high cost to the insurance companies. CBT has been proven quite effective at treating anxiety.. For depression, however, many patients need to combine CBT with medications to maximize their benefits. Patients can expect to start to feel better within 4 to 20 weeks of consistent CBT sessions: 20% showed an improvement of 50% or more in their depression, and 49% saw an improvement in their anxiety of 50% or greater.
Alpha-Stim® is an option that your doctor may not have presented to you. It is a compact medical device that is FDA cleared for the treatment of both depression and anxiety. Two electrodes clip onto your earlobes to deliver a painless microcurrent of electricity in a modality called cranial electrotherapy stimulation (CES). In just 20 minutes, Alpha-Stim’s patented waveform restores balance to your brainwaves and makes you feel better fast. But how does it compare to your other options?
To start, there is a very low risk of side effects, with less than 1% of users reporting adverse effects. If side effects do occur, a mild headache or skin sensitivity to the earclips are the most common. There is also no risk of addiction or withdrawal with Alpha-Stim. It is easy to use in the comfort of your own home; there is no need to travel to a doctor’s office or carve time out of your busy schedule. Many people report that they find their treatments enjoyable and relaxing; there is none of the fear or angst that can accompany undergoing a medical procedure that requires general anesthesia.
Between 60% and 80% of Alpha-Stim users experience more than 50% improvement in their depression and anxiety – in just 1 to 4 weeks. Results with Alpha-Stim are cumulative over time: the more you use it, the better you’ll feel, and the less you’ll need it. This is a stark contrast to the long-term use of medications, during which patients often need ever-higher dosages only to obtain ever-decreasing relief, or to TMS, which is an adjunct to other treatment options rather than a standalone solution. Since there are no harmful effects from discontinuing treatment, you can use your Alpha-Stim whenever you feel the need – even if weeks or months elapse between treatments.
Though the upfront cost of Alpha-Stim is higher than that of medications or CBT, it is actually the more cost effective choice over the long term, (financing options are available to help with the upfront cost.) It is low cost to payors, as well. In fact, a recent study in the United Kingdom found that Alpha-Stim saved the NHS approximately $680 per patient, compared to other modalities. In short: you’ll get more relief, faster, and for less cost, with Alpha-Stim.
Less Common Treatments for Mental Health
Transcranial magnetic stimulation is a non-drug treatment option, in which a magnetic coil is placed against the scalp, near your forehead. It delivers a magnetic pulse to stimulate the nerve cells in your brain, with the goal of activating the regions of the brain that have become deactivated.
TMS treatments must be performed in a clinic under the supervision of a physician. Each session costs roughly $400-$500; since multiple sessions are typically prescribed – usually 4 to 5 treatments per week, over the course of roughly 12 weeks – the total cost of TMS comes to approximately $15,000. With TMS treatments, you are expected to continue taking any antidepressant medications you currently use between treatment sessions. In other words, it’s likely not effective enough to be used as a standalone treatment.
TMS is FDA approved only for depression – not anxiety. Additionally, many insurers will not cover this type of treatment. Insurers that do cover TMS typically require evidence that all other attempted therapies have failed, and even then will only authorize treatments every 6 months – far from the frequency that would be needed to maintain any benefit.
Electroconvulsive therapy is a procedure that requires the use of general anesthesia, and is typically considered as an last option when all others have failed. In this procedure, small electric current are passed through the brain to trigger a small seizure.
Side effects of ECT include confusion that lasts from several hours to several days; both short- and long-term memory loss; nausea and muscle aches and pains; and the risk of medical complications that arise from any procedure that involves general anesthesia. People with existing heart conditions may be at heightened risk.
ECT treatments are typically given 2 to 3 times per week, over a span of 3 to 4 weeks. According to the Mayo Clinic, “some people may be advised not to return to work, make important decisions, or drive until one to two weeks after the last ECT in a series, or for at least 24 hours after a single treatment. Resuming activities depends on when memory loss and confusion are resolved.”
Relief from depression typically occurs after roughly 6 ECT treatments, though they will not be effective for everyone. Full improvement takes longer, and patients will still need ongoing treatment after the initial series of treatments. Like TMS, ECT is approved only for the treatment of depression, and is only considered for the most severe and treatment-resistant cases.
The Bottom Line
Making a decision about your mental health treatment plan can feel like an overwhelming calculus, factoring in if and when you’re likely to respond to treatment, risk of side effects, financial cost, and your own wellbeing. But what if there was a fast, low-risk, cost-effective way to feel better? With Alpha-Stim, you can be confident that you’ve made the best, most informed choice. Why wait? Get started today, and take the first step towards feeling your best.
Alpha-Stim® is an FDA cleared, handheld medical device that has been proven time and again to effectively treat acute, post-traumatic, and chronic pain, as well as anxiety, insomnia, and depression. Alpha-Stim uses cranial electrotherapy stimulation (CES), delivered through a patented waveform via two earclip electrodes, to treat anxiety, insomnia, and depression. Microcurrent electrical therapy (MET) delivers pain relief directly to the source of discomfort via two handheld Smart Probes.
The safety and effectiveness of Alpha-Stim is backed by over 100 independent clinical research studies. Unlike with medications, there is no risk of addiction or lasting side effects.
Alpha-Stim is available by prescription in the United States and over-the-counter in other countries. Get started today!