In many cases, depression is something a person is likely to be struggling with for years to come. Depression can come and go, with severe episodes, or it can be a persistent yet more moderate low mood. While depression has many forms, it is almost always chronic and recurring. Helping a person achieve immediate and lasting relief from depression is an important goal for any therapy or treatment, but another key goal is helping individuals better manage depressive issues should they come back in the future.
Depression treatment, for one condition or the other, is never ‘permanent’. Instead, treatments for depression help people better manage their mental health issues, and often give them either the tools or the mindset with which to combat depressive symptoms on an everyday basis.
Certain treatments directly target the potential neurological or biological issues triggering depression in the first place, by affecting a person’s serotonin levels, treating underlying causes such as hypothyroidism, or utilizing specialized equipment to affect the brain and bring relief. Other treatments help a patient deal with the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors they’re struggling with as a result of their condition.
To treat depression, it’s typically advised that a person takes both approaches – rather than relying on a single treatment, it’s often the combination of several different modalities that ultimately helps the most. Among these is transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), an effective and safe form of neuromodulation.
What Is TMS?
Approved by the FDA and absent of any lasting side effects, TMS is a non-invasive treatment for depression. TMS works by targeting a specific part of the brain and sending magnetic waves into said part. These waves stimulate the brain in such a way that helps regulate mood and improve blood flow, among other things. A single session is not enough – depression is treated through rTMS repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation), a form of TMS requiring a set of 20-30 treatment sessions within 4-6 weeks.
While the exact neurobiology behind why TMS functions so well in individuals with treatment-resistant depression isn’t completely understood, enough data exists to verify that TMS is an effective treatment method for depression, particularly in cases where therapy and/or antidepressant medication don’t seem to yield favorable results.
TMS Is Safe
TMS utilizes magnetic waves to effectively induce the changes in the brain that need to occur for depressive symptoms to go into remission. However, there are no lasting side effects otherwise. Patients undergoing regular TMS therapy are safe to drive and work right after, and TMS requires no prior medication or anesthesia. It’s completely pain-free.
During each session, it’s possible that patients will experience a light tapping sensation in the targeted area. Otherwise, patients are asked to simply relax, take a nap, read something, and just sit through the session. Each session takes less than half an hour.
How TMS Affects Depression
While this might seem questionable – no pain, no preparatory procedure, no lasting side effects – TMS treatment works, and is particularly effective for individuals who have tried other therapies but failed to find lasting relief from their depressive symptoms. Several studies have documented the effectiveness of TMS in the treatment of depression, and there is research currently ongoing seeking further data on the effectiveness of TMS in the treatment of other mental health issues, including OCD.
While TMS has only been approved by the FDA for use in the treatment of depression recently, research in this direction has been ongoing for over 30 years, since 1985. Utilizing neurological interventions to affect and combat depressive symptoms is nothing new, but past procedures were often much riskier than TMS due to the necessity of surgery in many cases.
TMS is mostly unrelated to older forms of neuromodulation, as the technology necessary to perform TMS has only been around for a few decades. Even so, new advancements are still being made in the development and improvement of TMS as a treatment for not only depression, but other disorders as well.
Other Forms of Depression Treatment
Depressive symptoms can be reduced through several ways. The first option for many psychiatrists is antidepressants, which target the brain’s reuptake of serotonin, a key neurotransmitter in cases of depression. By stopping or slowing the reuptake of serotonin, antidepressants called SSRIs serve to improve a person’s overall mood. Different antidepressants target different neurotransmitters. Aside from serotonin, some types of antidepressants also target epinephrine and dopamine.
However, while medication can help, it isn’t always effective. Some people do not react to any medication – when a psychiatrist or doctor has prescribed several different brands without a remission in symptoms, or with severe side effects, then other avenues are explored.
Therapy is a mainstay in depression treatment and is especially effective when tailored to a person’s needs and problems. However, it is most effective in conjunction with other treatments and lifestyle changes. Psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, can help a person understand why they have these negative thoughts, as well as figure out how to best identify them and separate them from ‘normal’ thoughts. Medication can help reduce the intensity and frequency of depressive thinking, giving patients a better chance to internalize some of the ideas they’re given through therapy.
Why Depression Treatment Varies
Some people don’t respond well to CBT initially, and do better in a group setting, or through music therapy or art therapy. Some people do not respond to SSRIs very well, but do well on a different medication, such as an SNRI (serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor). Some don’t seem to react much to medication at all, and struggle to find relief from episodes of severe depressive thinking. While depression is characterized as a consistent low mood over a period longer than two weeks, that leaves room for an incredibly broad list of disorders, possible causes, and effective treatments.
Some forms of depression cannot be treated without first helping a patient escape a situation causing undue stress, such as an abusive household or extreme school bullying. Some cases of depression have their origins in physical issues that need to be addressed by a physician before psychiatric help can be effective. And some people do not respond well to medication or other therapies due to individual or biological differences but respond well to alternative treatments like rTMS. There are many ways to treat depression, so it is important not to give up, and to keep looking.
Without the proper support, however, this can be disheartening and extremely daunting. Having the financial and emotional support to go through therapy until something sticks is just as important as therapy itself. Friends and family can help mitigate much of the pain and disappointment around failed or ineffective treatments and help give you the hope to keep going anyway.