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tDCS gave Henri hope amidst depression

Henri, a university student in his thirties, sought help for his moderate depression at the FSHS in spring 2020. He felt down and was hoping to get therapy, as many of his problems were going unprocessed.

A nurse unexpectedly suggested to Henri something called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). A pilot project on tDCS had just begun at the FSHS service units in Joensuu and Turku, and the results were promising.

“I had reservations about medication, so I became interested in this treatment option. I read more about it online and decided to give it a go.”

After discussions with a nurse and a doctor, it was decided to start tDCS.

What happens during tDCS?

Katri Muranen, a psychiatric nurse at the FSHS, has been working with tDCS ever since it was first piloted in Joensuu and has already provided tDCS for dozens of students. But what exactly is tDCS?

“It’s a non-medical treatment for diagnosed depression. To receive tDCS, the student needs a doctor’s referral, and this can be obtained via the FSHS”, Muranen explains.

In depressed people, certain areas of the left frontal lobe show lowered levels of activity, while the right side is hyperactive. Treatment is given using electrodes held in place by a cap, the aim being to balance out differences between the brain hemispheres.

tDCS is easy to perform.

“Students can borrow the device from the FSHS. However, the first and the last treatment sessions take place at the service unit”, says Muranen.

Most treatment sessions are carried out by students themselves in the comfort of their own home. A nurse keeps track of how treatment is progressing on a weekly basis.

tDCS is carried out on five days a week. Each treatment session lasts for 30 minutes. But, says Muranen, the five-day rule is not mandatory.

“Treatment can be adapted to the student’s schedule, provided there are 20 sessions during four weeks and there are treatment-free days.”

During treatment sessions the student should do something to activate the brain, such as revise for an exam or solve crosswords.

“If you don’t think much, the brain winds down and the external current is not as effective as it could be”, Muranen points out.

The first treatment session was unnerving

At the start of the treatment period, Henri was a little nervous.

“I was mainly worried about how it would feel in general and whether there would be pain.”

Katri Muranen says it’s not unusual for students to feel nervous about tDCS.

“Despite this no-one has discontinued their treatment or had any serious adverse effects that would’ve required treatment to be halted. This is great news.”

tDCS is considered a safe treatment that’s also suitable for pregnant women. The most common side effect is mild scalp irritation, which Henri developed too.

“I had mild pins and needles on the skin but it disappeared during later sessions. I didn’t experience any pain.”

Students are in safe hands during treatment, whether it is carried out at the service unit in Turku, Tampere, Helsinki, Oulu or Joensuu.

“Students may also send a message to us via Self”, Muranen says.

Henri soon started feeling better, and others have benefited from tDCS too

Halfway through the treatment, Henri noticed a change in his mood.

“My mood improved. I was no longer depressed – it was as if some wires had been connected in my brain”, he recalls.

Henri’s mood was monitored by means of symptom questionnaires. Based on his responses, the treatment was beneficial.

“Obviously it’s hard to assess how much the treatment affected me overall. But I started believing that my mood could improve and I could move forward in life”, Henri says.

Katri Muranen says that others who have received tDCS agree.

“Many students notice that their energy levels and activity increase during treatment.”

Muranen adds that the results improve further after treatment has ended.

Henri restarted tDCS – “I now live a pretty full life.”

In spring 2021 Henri’s mood dropped again. He’d started therapy the previous autumn and wanted to restart tDCS.

“I’d heard that it’s recommended in combination with therapy, so I asked the FSHS if I could borrow the device again.”

Henri has now had two treatment sessions and this spring he feels more energetic than before.

“Before I was stuck in my thoughts, but I’ve become more open about life around me. I don’t feel depressed at the moment.”

Henri has now graduated from university and is working in research. He no longer feels that he’s underachieving. Nowadays his life can sometimes feel even too hectic.

“I’ve had the courage to take up new things and managed to fulfil some of my dreams. I now live a pretty full life.”

Both Katri Muranen and Henri recommend tDCS. There’s nothing to lose if you try it, they both say.

“That’s why I tried it in the first place. I recommend tDCS, especially for those who are hesitant about medication – but for others too”, Henri concludes.

Henri’s name has been changed.

Transcranial direct current stimulation is available at the service units in Turku, Tampere, Helsinki, Oulu and Joensuu.