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Devices Purportedly Zap Anxiety, Depression

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Are you depressed or anxious and just can't sleep? Believe it or not, electricity may be the remedy.

CBS 2's Mary Kay Kleist reports on an at-home treatment that makes a difference for some people.

Several times a week, Karen Parziale uses an "electro-therapy" device at home. She says it relieved her depression.  

"I was very depressed.  I had a personal relationship end after 8 years, and I just really wasn't myself," she says. "I sort of describe it as this: My world was black and white and now I sort of see color." 

Michael Pietrzak uses the same device and says it has helped him with insomnia, irritability and anxiety. 

"I don't tighten up as much in the shoulders anymore," he says. "My face isn't gnarling up and I don't have those running and racing thoughts."

Clinical psychologist Sam Effarah says about 30 percent of his patients use these devices. He says if you have low- to mid-range anxiety, you would notice a change – feelings of relaxation -- within minutes. After a few weeks, your brain waves are "fairly regulated."

"I have a lot of people who come in with racing thoughts," Effarah says. "I can't fall asleep, I can't stop thinking."

Here's how they work. Low voltage current is transmitted to the brain through clips that are attached to the ears or through dampened sponges applied to the temples.

The devices deliver about one-thousandth the power of hospital machines used for traditional electro-convulsive therapy. Some doctors are not convinced they're effective.

"There are some reports of people who experience relief from it, but there is no scientifically demonstrated, compelling scientific evidence that it is an effective treatment," psychiatrist Herbert Fox says.

Manufacturers say doctors are prescribing these devices for patients who have failed with traditional drug treatment or who are looking for alternatives.  Pietrzak says he feels like a different person.

Alpha-Stim, the manufacturer of one of the devices on the market, says there have been 55 studies done on this therapy indicating nine of 10 people get some relief.

Some people have experienced a mild headache after using the device. A device costs $600 to $1,000 and is covered by some insurance.

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