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What is transcranial magnetic stimulation?

Transcranial magnetic stimulation may be an answer for those with treatment-resistant depression
Transcranial magnetic stimulation may be an answer for those with treatment-resistant depression 02:23

MENDOTA HEIGHTS, Minn. — It's a disorder that impacts millions. And for some living with depression, it's tough to treat. 

A depression treatment you might not be aware of is yielding fantastic results. 

It's called transcranial magnetic stimulation and it sounds a lot scarier than it actually is. While it's not a new method of treatment, doctors are working to get the word out because it really can help people with what psychiatrists call "treatment-resistant depression."


Dr. Suzanna Jasberg is the senior director of adult psychiatry at Ellie Mental Health 

"We're extremely stubborn as physicians and we won't stop trying. There's always something else that you can do," Jasberg said. "People who have depression, they're sad. They're hopeless, helpless. They feel often worthless, they're very guilty, they have low energy, low motivation. Often times they're thinking about death or suicide and those are all symptoms that we would hope will get better, if not completely go away, with the treatment."

The FDA-approved therapy has been around for more than a decade.

"Your job as a doctor is always to hold that hope for people when they don't have it, but having a treatment in your back pocket that most of the time works is really rewarding," Jasberg said.

But Jasberg says, for whatever reason, it's not well-known.

"It delivers a series of pulses with a 20-second break and it does that over and over again for 20 minutes," Jasberg said. 

READ MORE: New research at U of M measures brain waves to detect depression, suicide warnings

Those pulses target the neural circuitry of the brain.

"It adds energy to the brain to treat depression. To turn the brain back on so that it can utilize the neurotransmitters that are already there," Jasberg said.

TMS is time-consuming, requiring 30-minute sessions every day for six weeks.  

"Doing anything when you're depressed is hard, let alone advocating for yourself to find the right treatment and so we try to help people and walk that path even before treatment starts," Dr. Justin Gerstner, chief medical officer at Ellie Mental Health, said.

The results speak for themselves. Nearly 70% of TMS patients say their symptoms are cut in half. 

"By the end of treatment, they're feeling 50 to 100% better. It's pretty magical," Jasberg said.

It's changing lives for the better.

"This is a huge change over the course of a month-and-a-half," Gerstner said.

"The best-case scenario is that somebody comes in and then we never see them again," Jasberg said.

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