Lifting Spirits With Magnets

Joyce Daniels has suffered from depression since she was 11-years-old.

"I'd start crying and get very, very agitated. I didn't want anyone to look at me or talk to me," says Daniels.

Anti-depressant drugs had little effect. She even tried shock therapy, but it left holes in her memory.

"It's very frustrating when you try to remember something or you see someone and you say. I know who that is," says Daniels.

CBS News Correspondent John Roberts reports on experimental treatments that fall somewhere between drugs and shock therapy. It's called trans-cranial magnetic stimulation, in which a powerful magnet is placed on her scalp.

"It's like a little woodpecker pecking on your head," says Daniels.

"When it fires, it creates a magnetic field, causing your hand to move," says Dr. Mark George.

Dr. Mark George says that, like electricity, the magnet stimulates brain cells into action--a key to treating depression. But unlike shock therapy, the stimulation doesn't cause seizures or memory loss in many patients. Over several days, the cloud of depression starts to lift.

"People who have not been sleeping start to get a night's sleep. People who have not been eating will have an appetite. People who have been crying all day long will notice they've gone for a day without crying," says Dr. Mark George of the Medical University of South Carolina.

The idea of using magnets to treat depression is not a new one. It was first thought of almost a hundred years ago. But it's only been in the last 10 years or so that the technology has advanced to the point where the concept can actually be investigated.

Now, using high-tech imaging systems, Dr. George is mapping how the brain responds to magnetic stimulation. Why has its effect helped patients like Joyce Daniels?

"It's like you've been in a cage and someone opens the door and lets you out,"she says.

So far, it appears that freedom is only temporary. But it's hoped, if this research can determine what causes depression, it might one day be cured.

Reported by CBS News Correspondent John Roberts