Innovative Mental Health Treatments Could Be Game Changers
Not long ago, conversations about breakthroughs in mental health treatment mainly involved trying to predict the arrival of the next generation of antidepressant drugs. But with the realization that the next wave in medication treatments could be many years away, attention has shifted to innovations that could have much greater potential to improve patient outcomes.
In fact, a number of exciting developments on many fronts suggest that the mental health field could be on the brink of a revolution in how some of the most difficult-to-treat conditions are addressed.
For patients with major depressive disorder and/or treatment-resistant depression, for example, several treatments are showing promise in generating a response much sooner than what is usually seen with conventional antidepressant medication. A growing body of research is showing that doses of the anesthetic ketamine can produce rapid and lasting improvements in depressive symptoms.
A study published in May in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that twice-weekly doses of ketamine over three weeks were no less effective than three sessions a week of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) in patients with treatment-resistant depression, with better response rates in ketamine patients after three months. ECT has generally become a less favored option for patients who have not had success with conventional depression treatments.
Advances in non-invasive brain stimulation techniques, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), also have raised hope in the industry. In a 2022 Drug Target Review article, Adrien Châtillon of Boston-based medical technology company Actipulse Neuroscience wrote, “The non-invasive magnetic pulses of TMS reduce the symptoms of depression without the use of medication or other intrusive treatments by targeting the specific parts of the brain responsible for mood control.”
Results of a study published in June in The British Journal of Psychiatry suggest that for older adults diagnosed with depression, using TMS earlier in their treatment could be extremely beneficial. The study found that patients who had experienced the fewest prior treatment failures with standard treatment showed the highest remission rates from TMS treatment.
Other frontiers in mental health research also have shown promise, though challenges remain. There has been significant attention on identifying genetic biomarkers that could lead to more targeted treatments for depression and other mental health diagnoses. But the industry is still far from determining whether precision medicine will be as revolutionary in mental health care as it promises to be for illnesses such as cancer.
Then there is the explosion of apps and other technological tools for mental health support. Because these services don’t offer direct treatment and thus aren’t federally regulated, we can’t even be certain about how many there are (some experts believe we have exceeded 20,000 available options). We do know, from sources such as the mental health app review source One Mind PsyberGuide, that a scant minority of these apps have been designed according to evidence-based research principles. There remains a ”buyer beware” mindset around these innovations that are designed to expand patients’ access to mental health support.
Perhaps the greatest hope for innovation in mental health treatment surrounds the explosion of research into the potential of psychedelic drugs. Numerous recent studies have concluded that psychedelic-assisted therapy leads to significant improvement in patients with treatment-resistant depression.
A study published in August in JAMA found that a single 25-mg dose of psilocybin administered in a supervised session led to significant improvement in depressive symptoms compared with placebo. The results of this Phase 2 study and other research, including studies of MDMA, have raised hope that psychedelics could become approved and impactful therapies in mental health.
An important factor to remember in all of this is that these therapies should not be seen as stand-alone treatments. These innovations in mental health care and support appear to work best when they are integrated with proven therapeutic interventions such as cognitive-behavioral therapy. They will likely be most effective when they supplement, not replace, the work of trained mental health practitioners. When we support the organizations that employ these treatment professionals, we help to prepare them to adopt innovations that could be game changers for their patients.
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