Investigation: New treatment for depression

Investigation: New treatment for depression

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - We all get the blues from time to time, but have you ever known someone who is truly, clinically depressed? It's often a debilitating illness. For some patients, depression meds only mask the problem and make them feel even worse.

Now, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is getting a second look. For some people, like Chesterfield's Mark Wells, it's been life changing.

In 1966, Lyndon Johnson was president of the United States. "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton was a hit at the box office. It's also the year that Wells said he had his first mental breakdown.

"This was like a three-year struggle I had with depression, anxiety and panic, all of the above. I was a wreck," Wells said. Now almost 70, he has struggled off and on with major depressive disorder. Medicine did nothing for him. It merely dulled the senses. There was nothing that could make him well. And to make matters worse, for most of his life he suffered in silence.

"I said, 'Uh-uh, they ain't puttin' me in the hospital,' because I likened it going to a psychiatric hospital. A psychiatric hospital is for crazy people, and I said, 'you're not going to do that to me,'" Wells said.

That's why Wells goes to the TMS Neurohealth Center in Short Pump. He sits in what looks a lot like a dentist's chair for 37 minutes of treatment, five days a week for six weeks. TMS employs a three-Tesla magnetic field that stimulates the left dorsal-lateral frontal cortex of the brain. In layman's terms, it's the area of the brain that controls a person's moods. Some people describe the experience as being similar to an MRI. There's no pain involved.

"Yes, it's an electrical stimulation, but it's not an electrical stimulation you'd ever feel, so I wouldn't call it a shock. It's very gentle stimulation," Wells said.

Wells is lie most patients. After the first week, he said he didn't notice a thing. By the end of the second and start of the third, he said it was like somebody had flipped a switch in his head.

"I walked out of here, and said, "Daggone, I feel pretty good, I don't have depression today," he said. "When you stimulate the brain this way, and stimulate the brain and repeat it every single day, Monday to Friday for 30 days, then by the end of those 30 sessions, there is very likely a difference in the way the brain is firing."

Wells said it's the best he's felt since he was a teenager.

"I don't have depression anymore. No more. I don't have it," he said.

This therapy isn't cheap. Going through it for 37 minutes a day, five days a week for six weeks could cost in the neighborhood of $10,000, but in recent years, more insurance companies have been picking up the expense, because it's not considered "experimental" anymore. It's an FDA approved treatment.

Copyright 2015 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved.