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Transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy offers relief for some suffering from mental health woes

Transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy offers relief for some suffering from mental health woes
Transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy offers relief for some suffering from mental health woes 04:02

MIAMI - For those who suffer from mental health issues, when medication doesn't work it can feel like the end of the road. A non-invasive therapy that's existed for decades is now becoming more popular: in South Florida and around the world.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, is making a huge difference for some patients who are suffering but don't know where to turn.

The therapy has been around since 1985, but now more than ever patients are using it when other forms of treatment have not been effective.

"About four years ago, I got divorced," said Andy Burton, who found GIA Miami last year. "I have two daughters. My life tanked."

It's been a long road for Burton, who spent much of his life battling depression, anxiety and intrusive thoughts. He said he was about to give up.

"I had come down to Florida really to end my life," Burton said, adding now that since undergoing TMS those intrusive thoughts have quieted.

"That clutter in my head finally turned off," he said. "I mean that was since I was a kid. Done. It just ended."

Dr. Antonello Bonci runs GIA Miami, which provides traditional therapies like medication and talk therapy but the facility is known for TMS.

"It was shown basically that patients with depression had lower activity in certain brain regions," Bonci said. "The machine was designed to re-activate this brain region that was less active than normal to rebalance brain activity."

TMS is a non-invasive procedure using magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain involved in mood. It is believed the process activates areas of the brain with decreased activity in depression.

TMS is not cheap, and many insurance providers don't yet cover it.

It can cost up to $12,000 to complete the 36 recommended sessions with the possibility of a few more needed for maintenance.

Dr Bonci says he is hoping in the next few years more companies will begin to see the value and long-term benefits it offers. He advises that if a patient is interested, it is still worth reaching out to their insurance to ask.    

Traditionally used as a last resort, it has helped people around the world. 

The data shows a 70 percent success rate in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety and that's not all.

Steven Threet, a former college football player, said his trouble started when he suffered injuries on the field.

"It was chaotic. It was traumatic. It was stressful," he said. "It was everything you don't expect your life to be. I had to retire due to concussions. There was a lot of self-medication. It felt like a rollercoaster really."

He says that's when his struggle with drugs and alcohol began.

"I was really at the end of my road with the way that I was living," Threet said.

His mother and his wife were desperate to get him help and he was desperate to stop living the way he was.

Threet said it took just a few TMS sessions before he felt a significant change; his need to turn to drugs and alcohol was gone.

"It feels a little too good to be true," he said. "And I think people who are suffering in the way that I know I was, they have a hard time coming to believe in something like that."

The process is pain free and takes about 20 minutes per session. Most patients complete about 36 sessions, according to experts.

The patients do say it isn't TMS alone, however.

Many of them also are in talk therapy; some are on medication; , and they all say they take steps every day to improve their lives. 

Without TMS many wonder where they would be today.

"I remind myself where I was but I don't like to imagine where I would be," Threet said.

Burton agrees.

"It saved my life literally," he said. "No question in my mind."

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