Depression is often a debilitating mental illness which can be complicated to treat. For some patients, established treatments like ECT and antidepressant mediations don’t work, or have intolerable side effects.
Due to this large group of treatment-resistant patients, there is renewed interest in other types of depression treatment such as Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, or TMS.
“TMS, or Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation essentially involves using a pulsed magnetic field that passes in to the brain without any resistance. When you apply a magnetic field to something that conducts electricity you induce a current, so it actually makes the nerve cells in the brain fire” says Professor Paul Fitzgerald, a leading psychiatrist pioneering the use of TMS in Australia to treat depression. “What tends to happen then, if you’re making nerve cells fire repeatedly many thousands of times, you make them change their activity levels, and that way we can very specifically target changes in somebody’s’ brain in a way that hopefully has therapeutic benefit.
Jan, a patient suffering from depression for many years, underwent TMS therapy at Monash Alfred Psychiatry research centre. “Depression is very complex. Initially my doctor prescribed me with antidepressants, they helped me to a point, but I still felt that I could have been better. I went on to a trial that allowed me to have treatment each day, and I came in here after work. It just feels like someone is tapping on the side of your head. It’s not painful. After about the third session I noticed i was just sort of falling asleep, I felt quite relaxed,” she says of the treatment.
Like 60-80% of patients, Jan found an improvement in her depression symptoms after undergoing TMS therapy “I was quite surprised at how some of my thoughts were changing. And all of a sudden, this thought came in to my head ‘oh wow, what a great day’ and I kind of looked around and thought ‘where did that come from?!’”