Drug treatment for mental disorders has been increasingly questioned. Unpleasant or harmful side-effects would be one thing, but the drugs have still not been shown to work better than placebos and there is still no accepted explanation of how they work in the brain.
As Cornell psychiatrist and New York Times contributor, Richard Friedman, says, “just because an S.S.R.I. antidepressant increases serotonin in the brain and improves mood, that does not mean that serotonin deficiency is the cause of the disease.”
With almost 20% of American adults estimated to be suffering from issues involving mental illness, the question is, “If not drugs, what?”
One promising new avenue of research involves new technology that allow wearable sensors, brain-computer interfaces, and non-invasive brain stimulation. It may sound like science fiction, but it’s becoming a reality.
According to Forbes, an increased focus on research with traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), has led to new discoveries about the brain. Researchers are no longer looking at single chemical reactions in the brain, they are now looking at complex “neurological ‘functions’ through models of neural circuits known as ‘neural networks'”
Scientists are now looking for ways to affect these functions with non-invasive technologies such as brain-computer interfaces (BCI) and brain training. A brain-computer interface can measure electrical activity in the brain that can be compared to patterns in healthy brains and brain training can help a patient learn to control the specific dysfunctional network so that the brain can learn to function correctly.
Up until now, analyzing the data from brain-computer interfaces has been too difficult and complex for most uses, but a new company called Evoke Neuroscience has developed new, easier-to-use tools that use wireless data-capture technologies, signal processing algorithms, cloud-based data storage and processing, and wearable biosensors so that, soon, doctors will be able to “quickly measure the brain and then safely modulate certain regions using any number of scalp sensors and patterns to remedy troubling symptoms.”
“What is particularly promising about the use of brain interface technology,” Hagedorn said, “is its efficacy not only in the treatment of mental illness but also in assessing and treating the physiological underpinnings of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, concussion, traumatic brain injury, ADHD, and even the normal cognitive decline associated with aging.”