With more than 300 million people affected, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. It affects people of all ages and is caused by a complex interaction of social, psychological, and biological factors. Representing the cutting of edge of medical technology, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is an effective, non-invasive, FDA approved treatment for depression that is not responding adequately to medication and therapy.
Treatment Resistant Depression
While there are effective first-line treatments for depression such as psychotherapy and medication, these do not work for the majority of people. In addition, traditional medications carry the risk of significant side effects. Alternative therapies, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation, are an option when traditional therapeutic treatments have been tried, yet there have been inadequate improvements in mood and symptoms.
Experiencing a lack of improvement in conditions after trying psychotherapy and antidepressants is a phenomenon known as treatment resistant depression (TRD). For those experiencing this condition, it can feel as if you are stuck in a rut, seeking out help yet not feeling any improvement in depressive symptoms. Luckily, TMS is a viable option that gives people with treatment resistant depression hope for experiencing complete remission and relief from depressive symptoms.
Like medications, it is not entirely known how TMS changes brain biology to alleviate depression, but stimulation in the left prefrontal cortex of the brain is thought to spread to deeper areas involved in emotion and memory called the limbic system. Normalization of the circuitry and neurochemistry of the limbic system is thought to underlie the clinical improvements associated with TMS for depression. Pet scans of the brain secured before and after TMS treatment illustrate an increase in both blood flow and electrical activity in the brain as a result of treatment. TMS is a known to be an effective treatment option for altering the underlying biological basis of depression, bringing about new experiences and states of consciousness with no adverse side effects.
Antidepressants Are Not For Everyone
Antidepressants also alter the brain neurochemically, and they are usually one of the primary treatments offered when a patient talks to a doctor. For many people, antidepressants are an effective treatment that helps manage depressive symptoms; nevertheless, approximately 2/3 of people do not experience response or remission from depression after trying their first medication. As treatment continues, each subsequent medication tried becomes less effective than the one tried before.
In total, about ⅓ of people do not respond to medications, so there is a great need to help alleviate their suffering. While taking medications for the first time, those with treatment resistant depression will, unfortunately, still experience low-quality of life and suicidal thoughts.
Furthermore, antidepressant medications come with an array of possible side-effects that limit usability such as weight loss/gain, appetite changes, sexual dysfunction, drowsiness, and anxiety. Side-effects can be so severe, that some patients cannot continue taking medications despite symptom relief.
In comparison, side effects with TMS are minimal — there is a slight chance of headache or dizziness for the first few treatments, so Tylenol is provided during the session if needed. When antidepressants are not working, TMS is a valuable treatment option.
Major Depressive Disorder with Comorbid Addiction
Depression can be exacerbated by substance use disorder representing a major obstacle for complete recovery. Compared to the average population, those with mood disorders such as depression are more than two times more likely to have a substance abuse disorder. Cutting addiction out of one’s life can be a positive step forward in bringing about mental well-being, but this can be difficult for many due to the biological changes caused by addiction in the brain.
TMS can be helpful for people suffering with substance abuse and struggling to quit the habit.
There is scientific evidence showing that deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation can reduce craving, dependence, and consumption of alcohol, nicotine, and cocaine. Addiction can be extremely detrimental to health in the short and long term which is why it is important to consider TMS as an option for treating depression with comorbid substance abuse disorder.
Cognitive Deficits from Depression
One of the most debilitating symptoms of depression can be living with a brain fog: the experience of memory loss or a general slowing down of cognition. Though scientific research is only preliminary, there is evidence that TMS can improve cognitive functioning in patients with depression and schizophrenia, according to a recent research review. It was found that TMS tended to improve measures of visuo-spatial and working memory, executive function, and information processing speed in patients with depression.
Cognitive dysfunctions in memory, attention, language, and executive control are common features of psychiatric disorders, so TMS holds the potential to return those suffering from mental illness to a healthy cognitive baseline. Research suggests that TMS is a viable option for those with depression who also need help clearing the fog of cognitive deficits..
Exploring Different Treatment Options
It can be helpful to treat depression from a variety of angles trying many methods in order to develop a comprehensive mental-health formula that works for the individual. Simply put, taking care of the mind, body, and brain is essential to a healthy self-care routine.
TMS is one scientifically proven method that can be used to bolster mental-wellbeing along with mindfulness meditation, therapy, exercising routinely, and eating a healthy diet. A desire to improve and heal from mental-illness is a seed that holds the potential to grow into lasting well-being and mental-health. TMS should be considered as part of a healing plan, especially when traditional methods alone have been unsuccessful.
Learn more and talk to your doctor, therapist, or psychiatrist about TMS as one possible step to take in improving your mental-wellbeing.