RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - People who have severe depression, and don't respond to medication or psychiatric therapy, have really had only one choice: electro-shock therapy. But now, there's a new option for these people that offers some of the same benefits, but with none of the pitfalls.
At first blush - it would appear Tucker Martin is getting settled in for a visit to the dentist. But the reason she's here at the Tucker Pavilion Outpatient Clinic is for treatment of severe depression.
This is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation therapy, or TMS.
It clicks like an MRI --- sending pulsed magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells within the area of the brain thought to control your mood. This seems to help patients who don't respond to medications or therapy, and there is no real pain involved.
"It's like a woodpecker with a blunt beak, pecking on your head - knocking on it," said Tucker Martin who suffers from depression.
That minor discomfort is nothing compared to some of the side effects of electro-shock therapy...still the gold standard for treating chronic depression in patients who don't respond to meds. The two therapies are similar, in that they stimulate the brain, but that's where the comparisons end.
"It doesn't involve passing a current into your skull - instead it's just a magnetic pulse that stimulates the brain through the magnetic change, but it's not an electrical pulse," said Psychiatrist Dr. Stanley Jennings Jr.
The sessions typically last less than 30 minutes, and must be prescribed by a psychiatrist. Also - it's not a onetime deal - it takes a series of treatments to be effective. Tucker says you shouldn't expect an overnight miracle, and her psychiatrist agrees.
"I didn't go home and say, 'Hot dog. I feel great!' But I could feel better and gradually, as I had more of the treatments, I felt better and better," Tucker said.
"It works in a way that medications did not work for her - and when she got these treatments, she was able to go back and do the things she used to love to do, that she had been unable to do - because of depression," Dr. Jennings explained.
The treatments aren't cheap - about $300 a visit, and in Tucker's case, it wasn't covered by her insurance. But if medications aren't working and electro-shock seems too extreme, she thinks TMS is a good alternative.
"It's certainly worth a try - and for me - it certainly has been," Tucker said.
Also, many patients complain that one of the side effects associated with depression medication is weight gain...with TMS therapy often patients are weaned off the drugs all together, so the side effects go away.