Neurostimulation: The Future of Mental Health? Part 1

By 

Dr Nicholas Hool

Published 

August 10, 2022

Mental Health and Human Performance

Mental health has been the hottest topic in the world over the last two years. 9 out of 10 Americans believe the country is experiencing a “mental health crisis.” Demand for mental health therapy has never been higher and continues to grow. Even the sports world recognizes the importance of mental health, as the 2022 Olympics organization is preparing for athlete mental health crises following Simone Biles’ withdrawal from 2021 Olympic competitions due to mental health challenges.    

Mental health is key to a thriving society because mental health is key to human performance. For society to function properly, people must perform. For society to thrive, performance must be at its peak.

Peak performance is key for anyone wishing to push boundaries and advance the limits of human achievement. But peak performance demands peak mental health. And clearly, many people are not in a state of peak mental health.

Medication has been the most popular form of mental health treatment for decades. Millions of people consume antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs every single day to aid mental health. These compounds are powerful substances that alter the mind but can impair one’s ability to think and process information and can also be highly addictive. Drugs are a poor choice for people looking for peak mental health and human performance.

Mindfulness and meditation practices have become popular for millions of people because they don’t involve consuming an artificial substance and they are affordable, but these activities require active mental energy and focus to perform effectively, and it takes time and discipline to practice them consistently to reap the benefits. Many people simply do not have the time or focus to consistently practice these techniques.

It appears an effective solution needs to be a technique that can safely, quickly, and easily lead to peak mental health and human performance.

Neurostimulation

Neurostimulation is a method that involves applying energy directly or indirectly to the brain for the purpose of activating certain neurological responses controlled by the brain. It is powerful because it precisely targets a specific brain structure, leading to fewer side effects than drugs, and requires no active participation from the patient.

It has most commonly been a method limited to implantable devices, but recent improvements in the technology have led to non-invasive forms of neurostimulation that show similar efficacy to their invasive counterparts.

Can non-invasive Neurostimulation be the platform that solves the mental health crisis?

Neurons in the brain and the peripheral nervous system communicate via chemical and electrical signals. These signals lead to neural activation, which then sends signals out to the body and causes a physiological response to fit the moment. For example, when a person experiences a stressful event, the brain naturally responds by either activating the sympathetic response for fight or flight, or activating the parasympathetic response to aid in keeping calm, depending on the situation.

The brain can be artificially stimulated using medications (chemical signals) or devices (electrical signals). If one wanted to increase GABA levels in the brain for the purpose of reducing anxiety, one could take a benzodiazepine and deal with the cognitive impairment that comes along with it, or one could insert electrodes onto the Vagus Nerve and apply electrical energy, which is a method also used to increase GABA levels in the brain, but which has historically involved an expensive surgical procedure.

Neurostimulation has its limitations, but it has improved significantly over the last decade. There are a handful of non-invasive neurostimulation devices that have demonstrated similar results to their invasive counterparts such as non-invasive vagus nerve stimulation. Many people are starting to realize the potential of neurostimulation technology for mental health applications.

If we can easily, quickly, and precisely target any brain or nerve structure in the body, we can activate or deactivate nearly any physiological or emotional response that follows. And we can do it with far greater precision and fewer side effects than any medication.

There are many technologies that interface with the brain in such a way that can help people achieve mental health states they are looking for, but neurostimulation has the unique ability to interact directly with the brain and produce nearly immediate results.

If you are someone who is looking for new ways to improve your mental health and performance without the use medications or time-consuming processes, neurostimulation may be a technology worth exploring.  

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