Medical Procedures

Although medical procedures might be considered extreme and unnecessary for most people with depression, they may finally bring relief for people suffering from chronic, severe major depression. Medical procedures may help if medications, psychotherapy, complementary therapies, and lifestyle changes can’t successfully treat symptoms.

Here are some of the most common medical procedures to treat depression:

Deep Brain Stimulation 

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) involves the surgical implantation of two electrodes in the section of the brain most clearly associated with depression. 

Learn more about deep brain stimulation.

Electroconvulsive Therapy

Commonly referred to as “shock therapy,” electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) gets a bad reputation from its early days, when high doses of electricity were administered to patients without anesthesia. ECT is much safer today and involves a small electric current that is sent through the brain while the person is sedated. 

Find out about electroconvulsive therapy.

Vagus Nerve Stimulation 

Researchers have found that stimulating the vagus nerve with a stopwatch-sized pulse generator implanted in the chest can help alter the levels of chemicals in the brain that affect the functioning of mood centers. 

Read more about vagus nerve stimulation.

Trigeminal Nerve Stimulation

This is a relatively new procedure. Used for drug-resistant epilepsy and depression, it involves applying electrical impulses to the trigeminal nerve, the largest cranial nerve. The trigeminal nerve supplies sensory information from the face and connects to deep portions of the brain. 

Learn more about trigeminal nerve stimulation.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

This procedure uses a large electromagnet near the forehead to alter brain activity where the neurotransmitters responsible for mood — serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine—are made. 

Learn more about this type of therapy.

Magnetic Seizure Therapy

MST uses electromagnetic energy to produce a seizure that may change chemicals and impulses in the brain that affect mood. Like other therapies listed here, it is meant for treatment-resistant depression only.

Learn more about magnetic seizure therapy.

Stereotactic Neurosurgery 

This procedure involves the complicated mapping of a person’s brain so that a neurosurgeon can drill small holes in the skull and pass needles or electrodes into brain tissue.

Find out about stereotactic neurosurgery.