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Your Health: How magnets are being used to treat major depressive disorder

For some patients, supervised, short pulses of magnetic energy are helping unlock a world beyond major depressive disorder.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Major depressive disorder is a mood disorder that lasts two weeks or longer and interferes with daily life. One in three adults with depression isn’t helped by talk therapy or medication. For those patients, specialized treatments with magnets may put them on the path to better mental health.

Eric Clark was just 14 when his parents split up. He noticed he was sad or angry most of the time. Clark was diagnosed with major depression and tried therapy. His doctors prescribed almost every medication available; more than 15 in total.

“They would max out on the dose of a medication,” he shared.

Clark thought about suicide and was hospitalized five times. Finally, in 2020, he learned about transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS.

The TMS system uses short magnetic pulses of magnetic energy focused directly on the area of the brain thought to be misfiring in patients with depression.

Dr. Kevin Reeves, MD, a psychiatrist at the Harding Hospital, explains, “There are different areas of the brain that we may choose to stimulate based on the symptoms that the person's having.”

The NeuroStar TMS delivers focused energy in short bursts, over three to 18 minutes. Eric received TMS every day for a period of weeks.

“Many patients that receive TMS and do well and are fairly stable for even six months to a year,” Dr. Reeves mentions.

As the depression lifted, Clark began doing things again, starting with a complete kitchen remodel at his mom’s house. Then, he and his wife Samantha started cross country in a motorhome – something depression would never let him do before.

Clark expresses, “I don't think I’ll ever get back to that state of depression where I feel like I won't be able to pull myself back out of it. So, that’s what I want people to realize is there is hope.”

Dr. Reeves says if needed, patients can repeat the TMS treatment after a period of time. He says improvements in the technology have increased the speed of treatment. When Eric first started TMS, each treatment took almost 40 minutes. Now, he is treated for three minutes each time. The system is FDA-cleared and is covered by most insurance.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Shelby Kluver at shelby.kluver@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.

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