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YOUR HEALTH: Why magnets might give us better mental health

Repetitive magnetic stimulation may help some patients suffering from a severe form of depression.

SAN DIEGO — Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States.

An estimated 21 million adults had at least one major depressive episode last year. 

For many people, their depression can be eased with medications and therapy. 

But for some, traditional therapies don't help.  

"I went through a very bad spiral of depression," said Robert Mason who knows what it's like living with depression. "For me, it was having no energy, no motivation."

For most people, anti-depressants help. 

But there are more than three million suffering from Treatment Resistant Depression, or TRD.

If you or someone you know is having trouble dealing with depression, reach out to agencies such as:

Patients with TRD are often treated with electro-convulsive 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," explained Dr. Zafiris "Jeff" Daskalakis, Chair of the University of California San Diego Psychiatry Department.

Like 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.

"So, 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," Daskalakis said. 

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.

It may give people living with severe depression renewed hope that there is help for them. 

Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, or rTMS, is already FDA approved. 

Researchers plan a larger study in the future. 

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.

Perhaps a SAINT can help

Stanford Medicine is studying experimental depression which is 80% effective in its controlled study. 

It's a type of magnetic brain stimulation called "Stanford accelerated intelligent neuromodulation therapy" or SAINT. 

This is an individualized form of transcranial magnetic stimulation, and remission for patients started happening in days and lasted for months. 

The side effects are fatigue and headaches.

Of course, not every depression is alike

There are different kinds of depression, such as:

  • Anxious distress, when depression occurs with an unusual restlessness or a worry about possible events or loss of control 
  • Mixed features, when simultaneous depression and mania, which include elevated self-esteem, talking too much and increased energy 
  • Melancholic features, where severe depression with lack of response to something that used to bring pleasure and associated with early morning awakening, worsened mood in the morning, major changes in appetite, and feelings of guilt, agitation or sluggishness
  • Atypical features, when depression includes the ability to temporarily be cheered by happy events, increased appetite, excessive need for sleep, sensitivity to rejection, and a heavy feeling in the arms or legs
  • Psychotic features, when depression accompanied by delusions or hallucinations, which may involve personal inadequacy or other negative themes
  • Catatonia, which is depression that includes motor activity that involves either uncontrollable and purposeless movement or fixed and inflexible posture
  • Peripartum onset, which is depression that occurs during pregnancy or in the weeks or months after delivery, this is also referred to as postpartum
  • Seasonal pattern or SAD, which is depression related to changes in seasons and reduced exposure to sunlight  

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 Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.

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