HOUSTON – Major depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States. Unfortunately, medicine only can help half the time, but some people are getting relief in an unorthodox way.
"I’ve been depressed all my life," said Kathryn Brokaw.
Simple for many, but smiling has been almost impossible for Brokaw.
"Crying a lot, suicide attempts, hospitalizations, medication after medication after medication after medication that didn’t seem to help," she said.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, is doing for Brokaw what nothing else has.
"It’s the best thing that’s happened since sliced bread," Brokaw said.
TMS turns magnetic waves into a mild electrical current, stimulating inactive areas in the brains of people with depression.
"So instead of applying electricity to the whole brain, or whole body, we can target it to the area that controls mood," said psychiatrist Glenn Currier.
Currier said TMS is an option for people who aren’t helped by medication. He said TMS works for around seven out of 10 patients. Some do relapse, but the results can be impressive.
"It can be quite life changing actually," Currier added.
It’s not a one-time solution. TMS is usually administered about 40 minutes a day, five days a week for six weeks. But Currier said it’s one of the safest and most well-tolerated treatments for depression.
"If it gets to the point where you can’t function, and it’s really getting in the way of your day to day life, we tell people you do not need to walk the world in that state, there are alternatives to that."
For Brokaw, that alternative is TMS.
"I can enjoy things, and I can actually say that I am happy," she said.
Currier said some patients have to take antidepressants or do another TMS treatment within the first year, but many don’t need any more treatment. TMS is also being studied to treat obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), migraines and post-traumatic stress disorder for veterans.