Is a ‘ brain mas­sage’ the se­cret to treat­ing de­pres­sion?

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - HEALTH - By ROB KEMP

Can a “brain mas­sage” bat­tle the po­ten­tially life-threat­en­ing ef­fects of de­pres­sion?

That’s the hope be­hind a rel­a­tively new treat­ment, called Tran­scra­nial Mag­netic Stim­u­la­tion (TMS for short), which is show­ing im­pres­sive re­sults in the treat­ment of de­pres­sion among test cases in the UK.

TMS sends mag­netic pulses of low-level elec­tric cur­rent through spe­cific parts of the brain, stimulating or sup­press­ing the cells and po­ten­tially — so the the­ory goes — chang­ing their be­hav­iour. It’s been around for a while, but has only re­cently been fine-tuned; the Na­tional In­sti­tute for Clin­i­cal Ex­cel­lence backed TMS in 2015, recog­nis­ing it as a safe and ef­fec­tive treat­ment for a range of dis­or­ders in­clud­ing neu­ro­pathic pain, de-per­son­al­i­sa­tion syn­drome, de­pres­sion and ad­dic­tion.

For Fred­die Web­ster, 27, it’s not an ex­ag­ger­a­tion to say TMS may have saved his life.

“I’ve bat­tled de­pres­sion for the past 10 years, com­bat­ing it with drugs in the dark­est mo­ments when my thoughts turned to sui­cide,” says the web­site de­signer from Sur­rey.

“When I was first di­ag­nosed with a de­pres­sive dis­or­der the symp­toms would be­gin with me feel­ing down about ev­ery­thing, hav­ing a bleak out­look, lack­ing en­ergy but hav­ing height­ened anx­i­ety. Then I would de­scend into bouts of clin­i­cal de­pres­sion. I’d lose fo­cus, I couldn’t con­cen­trate, my mem­ory would suf­fer, it ru­ined re­la­tion­ships and jobs. I’d have sui­ci­dal thoughts.”

“When you have more than two episodes like that you’re suf­fer­ing with a ma­jor de­pres­sive dis­or­der.”

Fred­die fol­lowed med­i­cal ad­vice and tried to com­bat his ill­ness through ex­er­cise, mov­ing jobs and tak­ing breaks. “I’d get some tem­po­rary respite from the symp­toms, but the de­pres­sion — or the dread of it re­turn­ing — was al­ways there. I went on to med­i­ca­tion — but they were stick­ing plas­ters re­ally, not a so­lu­tion.”

“I was put on Ser­tra­line (an an­tide­pres­sant) which stopped work­ing after a few months and I be­gan to spi­ral into a big­ger de­pres­sion than ever be­fore. At my low­est point, I could barely form sen­tences or think straight. My mem­ory wouldn’t func­tion and I felt like my mind was shut­ting down”.

In De­cem­ber 2016, Fred­die’s sui­ci­dal thoughts got so bad he was re­ferred to a men­tal health re­cov­ery ser­vice and put on Di­azepam. As the de­pres­sion took a grip once more he sought com­fort in pod­casts, in­clud­ing one by US co­me­dian and de­pres­sion suf­ferer Neil Bren­nan.

“He was talk­ing about his per­sonal bat­tle with de­pres­sion and de­scribed how what he called ‘mag­netic brain ther­apy’ had cured him.”

Un­aware of the term or the treat­ment, Fred­die went on­line to re­search it. He dis­cov­ered that the new treat­ment is not widely avail­able in the UK — just two NHS trusts and a hand­ful of pri­vate clin­ics of­fer it.

“I found a pri­vate clinic in Lon­don that of­fered the treat­ment and after do­ing some more re­search I con­tacted them. Fol­low­ing an as­sess­ment Fred­die un­der­went a series of TMS treat­ments at the SmartTMS, lead by psy­chi­a­trist Dr Leigh Neal.

“Fred­die’s de­pres­sion score was one of the high­est we’d ever seen,” says Dr Neal to­day.

To date, Dr Neal’s team has helped around 50 peo­ple us­ing the mag­netic brain treat­ment for a range of dis­or­ders in­clud­ing de­pres­sion and even ad­dic­tion to co­caine. “It has around an 82 per cent suc­cess rate with the pa­tients go­ing into re­mis­sion, on av­er­age, achiev­ing a 75 per cent re­duc­tion in the sever­ity of symp­toms of de­pres­sion,” he ex­plains.

Un­like many med­i­cal anti-de­pres­sants, TMS, has lit­tle or no side­ef­fects — it of­ten works on pa­tients for whom anti-de­pres­sants are not ef­fec­tive or poorly tol­er­ated.

“There is a very small risk — around 1 in ev­ery 30,000 treat­ments — of con­vul­sions or fits,” ex­plains Dr Neal. “Be­tween 5 and 10pc of pa­tients re­port some dis­com­fort or tran­sient headaches, but no longterm is­sues after the treat­ment, which last on av­er­age around four weeks.”

Peo­ple who suf­fer with epilepsy or who have any kind of metal work in their scull can­not be treated us­ing the mag­netic de­vice. Pri­vate TMS ses­sions cost around £200 a time with an av­er­age of 20 ses­sions needed in all.

“It has the po­ten­tial to change the lives of mil­lions,” ex­plains Dr Neal. “Right now a new, more in­ten­sive ver­sion of the treat­ment is un­der­go­ing test­ing in the USA.” In tri­als this up­graded TMS re­duces treat­ment ses­sion times — cur­rently around 40 min­utes — to around 3 min­utes. “For busy work­ing men and those with a height­ened sui­cide risk that abil­ity to speed up the treat­ment times and pos­si­ble re­sults could save lives,” says Dr Neal.

After hav­ing 20 ses­sions of 40-minute mag­netic pulse treat­ments over five weeks in Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary of this year, Fred­die Web­ster is a con­vert. “I feel the best I have since be­fore I started to suf­fer with de­pres­sion when I was 16. In the space of five weeks, my symp­toms com­pletely re­versed. The men­tal pain I had has dis­ap­peared and my sui­ci­dal thoughts have gone.

“For the first time in 10 years, I’m ex­cited about the fu­ture and it’s all be­cause of TMS”.


Un­like many med­i­cal anti-de­pres­sants, Tran­scra­nial Mag­netic Stim­u­la­tion, has lit­tle or no side-ef­fects.

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