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What is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)? How Well Does it Work to Treat Depression and Anxiety?

speaking with mental health professional about treatment

Image courtesy of Pixabay.com

Depression and anxiety have a new treatment option, and it is becoming more widely used all across the United States. What is transcranial magnetic stimulation, otherwise known as TMS?

How well does TMS work?
Does it sound too “science fiction-ey”?

More than 16 million adults in the United States experienced a major depressive episode between 2017 and 2018, and with medical science advancing as rapidly as it is, it’s no wonder that new technologies and therapies are beginning to take the stage as options to conventional mental health treatment plans.

What is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation?

TMS is a magnetic stimulation technique intended to target nerves in your brain that affect your mental health. More specifically, the magnetic field, delivered through a special device you wear on or over your head, stimulates the brain cells known to affect mood. The levels of magnetic energy used are in low amounts, at an individual’s unique brain frequency.

Most TMS sessions take 20 to 60 minutes, and don’t require any time to recover afterward. About four to six weeks into treatment (daily, five days a week) is when most patients start noticing significant results, and after that initial treatment, patients only need to go on an “as needed” basis. Regardless of the fact that it’s not meant to be a permanent cure, patients who undergo TMS therapy feel much better overall for several months up to a full year afterward.

Many lifelong depression and anxiety patients who have undergone TMS treatments for at least a month to six weeks will tell you that they begin seeing positive results immediately after each treatment.

TMS was approved in 2008 to treat depression and in 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also approved TMS therapy to treat some migraine conditions. In the fall of 2018 the FDA went on to approve TMS to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and studies are currently underway to see if it can be a viable treatment for other mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Some aspects of TMS appear to simulate what some medications do, e.g., the release of dopamine that happens after a TMS session is similar (but not exactly the same) to what a medication can do.

But TMS can restore functionality, and that’s the important thing. Patients who undergo TMS treatment report “feeling normal” again, compared to patients on psychotropic medications who feel “different” than they do normally, because of some of the medication’s side effects.

What’s so Great About TMS?

TMS is part of a newer generation of developing technologies informed by neuroscience and easier to use than current technologies. It could very well be a look at the future of mental health care: it’s non-invasive, immediately effective after the first month to six weeks of treatment for long periods of time, and it’s especially effective for those with more severe depression and anxiety.

After the brief treatment, patients can get back to being engaged with their lives immediately, with a more positive outlook, and all the energy they need to do all the things they normally do. Further research shows that even just a few minutes of TMS daily can make a significant improvement in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety.

TMS side effects are few and they are mild. Common side effects include minor headaches, lightheadedness, and some scalp discomfort during treatment sessions. Some facial muscle spasms, and tingling or twitching of these muscles has also been reported during treatment sessions

What’s the Difference Between TMS and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)?

TMS has shown itself to be a viable alternative to electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) for patients who are resistant to conventional mental illness treatments.

There are some key differences between TMS and ECT treatments:

  • ECT requires anesthesia and typically a hospital stay while TMS does not.
  • ECT brings with it the risk of memory loss and cognitive confusion. Patients undergoing TMS have not manifested these side effects.
  • ECT is designed to create a brief seizure in the patient as a part of the treatment session. TMS does not utilize seizures as a way to treat patients.

TMS Accessibility?

If you’ve tried several types of antidepressants or other standard depression treatment, and have not received relief from your symptoms, you may want to discuss TMS with your mental health care professional. Ask him or her about the benefits and risks, and if TMS could be a good addition to your treatment.

TMS currently has one downside: the cost. It costs up to $10,000 to 15,000 for the initial four-to-six-week treatment. Though TMS has been approved by the FDA to treat depression and anxiety after trying one antidepressant medication that proved unsuccessful at controlling depressive/anxiety symptoms, many insurance companies won’t cover the treatment until after a patient has tried at least four different antidepressants. Double check with your insurance company to see if your coverage will cover TMS treatments if you are considering. It is still less expensive than ECT.

As always, maintain your sleep, exercise, nutrition, and stress management techniques as you normally would, even if you do undergo TMS treatment, as it will not be effective if you are not taking care of yourself.

Have you heard about TMS? Post a comment below. . .We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Are you struggling with mental health issues? Mental health is very manageable. If you or someone close to you need to talk to someone about mental health issues that seem overwhelming, we can help. Consider reaching out to our expert team at Solara Mental Health at 844-600-9747.

Can You Treat Mental Illness with Psychedelics?

psychedelic drugs could well be the future of mental illness treatment

Image courtesy of Pixabay.ocm

Hallucinogens can provide a treatment solution for mental disorders?

Most people associate psychoactive drugs with hippies from the 60s, with all night rave party goers, perhaps with music festivals like Burning Man, or with burnout slacker cult heroes from TV shows and movies (Remember Jeff Bridges’ line from The Big Lebowski? When asked what he does for “recreation,” he mumbles something about how he likes to “Bowl… drive around..       . [and enjoy] the occasional acid flashback…”).

In the not too distant future, however, hallucinogenic substances may be a go-to method for mental health professionals as they help their patients working through mental health issues such as social anxiety and grief to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.

Like the majority of antidepressant medications, hallucinogens affect how the brain utilizes serotonin, the brain chemical relevant to memory, sleep, and mood. Different from antidepressants, however, hallucinogens appear to change how different parts of the brain communicate with one other – that may be why many individuals who have taken hallucinogens take away a “significantly altered sense of self,” not to mention an increased degree of “open-mindedness.”

Powerful tools

Psychoactive drugs are among the most powerful substances known, and can have potent effects on the central nervous system. Like any powerful tool, they can be either hazardous or of benefit. If they are administered properly and monitored, they have shown potential to be extremely beneficial.

Research into psychedelics

According to researchers, when combined appropriately with psychotherapy, psychedelics such as MDMA (ecstasy), LSD, psilocybin (“magic mushrooms”), and ayahuasca have been known to improve symptoms of depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Research continues to help us better understand the possible benefits of these substances, while psychologists help bring awareness to any possibly related cultural, ethical, and clinical questions associated with using them.

MDMA. Another study’s findings reflect that symptoms of social anxiety in autistic adults may be manageable with a combination of MDMA and psychotherapy. The results of the MDMA and psychotherapy treatments showed positive results for months, and even years in some cases, for the majority of the research subjects. Notably, social anxiety, which is common among autistic adults, has seen few if any effective treatment options.

LSD,  psilocybin, and ayahuasca. Research studies have also delved into how people coping with depression, anxiety, and eating disorders may benefit from psychotherapy coupled with monitored doses of LSD, psilocybin, and ayahuasca.

In one study, participants discussed past experiences with hallucinogens, in terms of their relationship with their emotions, and their spirituality. The use of psychedelics was reported by the vast majority of participants to be associated with greater levels of spirituality, leading to enhanced emotional stability, and subsequently fewer symptoms of depression, anxiety, and disordered eating.

More on ayahuasca. Other research studies have indicated that the use of ayahuasca has shown increases in generosity, spiritual connection, and altruistic feelings; the use of ayahuasca has also been tied to the relief of depression along with mitigating addictive behaviors, as well as relieving stress for those dealing with trauma.

Other landmarks:

  • In December 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved plans for the third phase of a clinical trial testing MDMA in the treatment of PTSD. The study is expected to document the treatment experiences of over 200 people over the course of two to three years.
  • That same month, a research team at Johns Hopkins University released results of a study that tested psilocybin in a group of cancer patients who showed signs of depression and anxiety. High doses, around two to three times a typical recreational dosage, significantly reduced these symptoms, and four out of five continued on with significant overall decreases in depressed mood and anxiety six months later.
  • In studies of the effects of ketamine (also known as “Special K”) on severe depression, patients typically get ketamine either through an IV or a nasal mist about once a week, in a clinic under strict medical supervision. In some participants, ketamine can ease depressive symptoms in a matter of a few hours.

The times, they are a changin’

This new research coincides with a time when social and political attitudes toward drugs are shifting immensely.

The prevalent abuse of prescription opioid painkillers is framed more as a public health issue than as a law enforcement issue, and in the meantime, an increasing number of states are legalizing medical and even recreational marijuana.

Members of Congress asked the Drug Enforcement Administration to hold off on plans to make the herbal supplement kratom illegalscientists claim that kratom may be useful to treat addiction and chronic pain.

Researchers tell us that we are still “newcomers and amateurs” in our understanding of how hallucinogens may help. What all the studies are meant to help researchers understand is how permanent changes to the brain’s functioning may be, and how such changes might help those with depression, anxiety, and addiction.

There are currently hundreds of research projects underway, and to date, there is no known research that the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has rejected or put the brakes on. Furthermore, the DEA has also been having talks with researchers and mental health professionals about streamlining the agency’s approval process.

Curious about better ways to address your own depression and/or anxiety? Both are treatable and manageable. If you or someone close to you need to talk to someone about mental health issues that seem overwhelming, we can help. Consider reaching out to our expert team at Solara Mental Health at 844-600-9747.