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VNS for Depression “New”? No, But Don’t Tell Wired

Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) is a unique treatment used to treat a very small minority (less than 1%) of patients with epilepsy and depression. The treatment involves a small battery-operated device that delivers intermittent, rhythmic pulses to the vagus nerve, a nerve that reaches a half dozen areas of the brain that are thought to be critical to treating depression.

However, VNS has been studied as a treatment for depression since 2000 (perhaps even earlier) and was approved by the FDA as a medical device for the treatment of depression over 2 years ago, in 2005.

So it leads us to question how the following love letter, penned over at Wired by Marty Graham and entitled, “Brain ‘Pacemaker’ Tickles Your Happy Nerve adds anything new to our understanding of this treatment. To start with, the title of the article is an insult to anyone who suffers from or has ever suffered from depression. A nerve in your brain is the “happy nerve”? What a way to dumb down a complex process about a serious, debilitating disorder.

But what I really want to know is where is the balance to this story? Where, for instance, is the “news” value? Well, for one, the author could have noted that on May 7, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) confirmed its preliminary determination not to cover VNS as a treatment for treatment-resistant depression (an ideal application for the device) for Medicare recipients. That’s a pretty big deal, and a pretty newsworthy item. But no mention of it in this article.

And no mention of the cost of the VNS treatment. For the record, the device and surgery to implant it can run anywhere from $27,000 – $42,000. Not exactly an affordable treatment option that’s widely available to most people.

C’mon Wired, write something better than a press release!

VNS for Depression “New”? No, But Don’t Tell Wired

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Psych Central. He is an author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). VNS for Depression “New”? No, But Don’t Tell Wired. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 23, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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