Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the U.S. An estimated 21 million adults had at least one major depressive episode last year.
For many people, depression can be eased with medications and therapy. But for some, traditional therapies don’t help. Now, there is a new treatment that may make all the difference.
Robert Mason knows what it’s like living with depression.
“For me, it was having no energy, no motivation,” Mason explained.
For most people, anti-depressants help, but there are more than three million suffering from treatment resistant depression, or TRD.
Patients with TRD are often treated with electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT, where small electric currents are passed through the brain, triggering a seizure and causing changes in brain chemistry that reverse symptoms of depression.
“It is one of our most controversial treatments in psychiatry, in part, because it works so effectively, but also, it does cause cognitive side effects,” Chair of Psychiatry at UC San Diego, Dr. Zafiris Daskalakis informed.
Some of the cognitive side effects include confusion and memory loss.
In a first-of-its-kind study, psychiatrists at UC San Diego researched whether using magnets could be as effective, or even better, at treating TRD.
Dr. Daskalakis said, “Magnets and magnetic fields can activate the brain in a very similar way.”
MST, or magnetic seizure therapy, delivers high-intensity magnet field impulses to the brain.
“The advantage of magnetic seizure therapy is that it produces the same type of seizure that electroconvulsive therapy produces albeit in a way that is much more focused and doesn’t spread throughout the brain,” Dr. Daskalakis added.
In a study with 30 people over 12 sessions, two-thirds were improved without any adverse cognitive effects. The relapse rate with continued MST was also lower.
Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation, or rTMS, is already FDA approved. Up next, researchers are planning a larger study. Doctors hope that the results will help to make this therapy more widely used and even become a therapy that can be used at home.