Holyoke, MA

TMS: Can this helmet make you happier? It's here in Holyoke

Jayne B. Stearns

We all want to live as healthy a lifestyle as we can. And we want to be happy as well. The more comfortable our lives, the better. Unfortunately, some of us have issues that we've carried with us from our youth into adulthood, like depression. I'm not referring to periods of sadness we encounter as a response to a disturbing event. These are situational and as soon as the situation changes, so does the sadness or depression associated with it.

Major depression is different. It's persistent. It doesn't go away when a situation improves and is not affected by either pleasant or unpleasant circumstances. Here's how the National Institutes of Mental Health describes major depression:

You may be suffering from major depression if you have been experiencing some of the following signs and symptoms most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
  • Decreased energy or fatigue
  • Moving or talking more slowly
  • Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still.
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • Appetite and/or weight changes
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment

On the 'outside,' it may appear someone has everything that our society assumes creates happiness: money, stable housing, a great job, harmonic relationships, and no apparent stressors. Yet, on the 'inside,' they still feel depressed. Empty. And like the relentless pain of a toothache, this kind of depression doesn't go away unless something is done to help extinguish it.

A relatively new treatment called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) can address this major form of depression. Fortunately, all four surrounding hospitals in the area - Baystate, Mercy Medical Center, Cooley Dickinson, and Holyoke Medical Center - use it to treat major depressive episodes if indicated.

What is TMS?

TMS is a non-invasive and painless procedure similar to an MRI but on steroids and can appear daunting. Instead of your body being inserted into a tube where electromagnetic impulses are delivered to record your physiological condition, the TMS patient sits in a comfortable chair and wears a helmet. Then, an electromagnetic coil is placed inside that helmet, near their scalp. The coil within the helmet emits painless magnetic impulses that stimulate nerve cells in specific areas of their brain.

And it gives new meaning to the term "mental stimulation."

Approved by the FDA in 2008 for healing treatment-resistant depression only, TMS research has with excellent results for the treatment of chronic pain and other illnesses like addiction, Alzheimer's disease, autism, bipolar disorder, Parkinson's disease, PTSD, schizophrenia, smoking cessation, obsessive-compulsive disorder, multiple sclerosis, and stroke rehabilitation.

TMS for Depression

According to the Mayo Clinic, a leader in research and the use of repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Treatment Stimulation (rTMS) for depression, the patient often requires repetitive treatments, usually six consecutive weeks, to prevent reoccurrence. The Mayo Clinic has performed these repetitive treatments as part of their nationwide research on the helmet-like TMS device. In Addition, after FDA approval, they were one of the first facilities in the United States to offer treatment for depression. Today they continue their research and treatment as leaders in the field. Side effects of TMS, unlike electroconvulsive therapy, are usually mild and temporary but can include headache and mild discomfort at the treatment site. Thinking and memory are not affected by TMS treatment. Treatments last just over half an hour, and patients remain awake and alert the whole time.

Who can benefit from TMS

People who haven't benefited significantly from prior use of antidepressants may find success with TMS, those who have suffered intolerable side effects from antidepressants, and those who have been treatment-resistant to depression over a long period.

According to Harvard University and their Mental Health Blog:

"Approximately 50% to 60% of people with depression who have tried and failed to receive benefit from medications experience a clinically meaningful response with TMS. About one-third of these individuals experience a full remission, meaning that their symptoms go away completely."

Going Forward

As the demand for TMS increases, so does the research and experimentation, extending the technique's reach, lessening the motor tremors in Parkinson's disease, forestalling stroke damage, and mitigating OCD behavior. Long-term controlled studies are still needed to establish consistent success with other disorders. Still, as the development of more precise neural targeting of the brain continues, the future for TMS looks brighter than ever.

*If you think you are suffering from depression, call your doctor and seek medical treatment and support. You can also call your local hospital and ask them what their process of obtaining TMS treatment requires.







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Jayne is a freelance writer, poet, and award-winning playwright specializing in writing human interest stories and anything else that satisfies a multitude of curiosities. Jayne is also a passionate advocate for recovery. You can email Jayne here: JayneBStearns@gmail.com

Holyoke, MA

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