Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for Adults with Mental Illness: A Review of the Clinical Effectiveness [Internet]

Ottawa (ON): Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health; 2014 Aug 27.


Mental illness, including major depressive episode, bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, alcohol abuse, and other drug abuse or dependence, affects approximately 1 in 3 Canadians at some point in their lives. Depression is the most common mood disorder, with a lifetime incidence of 11.3%, while the lifetime incidence of generalized anxiety disorder is 8.7%.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is administered inside a treatment chamber and provides the patient with 100% oxygen at high atmospheric pressures. There have been a number of medical conditions in which treatment with hyperbaric oxygen has been investigated, including, but not limited to, treatment of carbon monoxide poisoning, improved wound healing, and decompression sickness and air embolism due to ascending too quickly in aviation or deep water diving. It has been hypothesized that hyperbaric oxygen therapy may be beneficial in the treatment of certain mental health disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder occurring in the setting of a traumatic brain injury. In an uncontrolled pre-post study, a group of patients with blast-induced post-concussion syndrome with or without post-traumatic stress disorder demonstrated improvement in a number of physical, psychological, and cognitive measured hen tested within a week of completing 30 days of HBOT. The proposed mechanism of action of hyperbaric oxygen in traumatic brain injury is that increasing oxygenation of blood and tissues to supraphysiological levels results in the improvement of neuronal functioning by the reactivation of metabolic or electrical pathways. Stem cell mobilization to sites of injury, immune modulation and impact on neurotransmitters have also been hypothesized as possible mechanisms.

Currently, the value of using hyperbaric oxygen therapy in the treatment of mental illness has not been well-established. The purpose of this report was to review existing studies on the use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy for adults with post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, or depression.

Publication types

  • Review