How You Can Overcome Pandemic-Related Depression and Anxiety
July 30, 2021
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been a challenging time for everyone. Between losing loved ones, living through extreme social isolation, and suffering from persistent anxiety about infecting oneself and others, there have been many stressors that have increased symptoms of depression and other mental illnesses in the general population.
However, psychiatrists believe that a cutting-edge treatment for depression, called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), could reverse this trend. TMS has been found to be fast and effective at treating depression, especially in those who have not seen improvement from antidepressants and talk therapy.
Depression rates skyrocket due to the COVID-19 pandemic
In June 2020, the CDC conducted a survey which found that around 41% of respondents — higher than the previous year — reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition. This included depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, trauma- and stressor-related disorders such as PTSD, and substance abuse disorders.
Later, the CDC found once again that the percentage of adults with recent symptoms of an anxiety or depressive disorder increased from 36.4% in August 2020 to 41.5% in February 2021. As the pandemic has progressed, mental health amongst adults has gotten worse, not better.
There are many causes for the development of these symptoms. The persistent threat of COVID-19 has created feelings of underlying anxiety in many, especially those who are at a higher risk — or whose loved ones are at a higher risk — for severe or fatal infection. The experience of this continuous, long-term anxiety, or the experience of yourself or a loved one suffering from severe COVID-19 infection, has been traumatic for many.
In addition, a strong and sudden decrease in social activity — whether dictated by one’s personal anxieties about COVID-19 or by public health mandates that restricted social gatherings — has led many to self-isolate. While modern-day programs like Zoom, FaceTime, and Skype have been able to provide many people with social contact, not everyone has access to this technology. This social isolation is thought to be one of the most significant factors in COVID-19-related mental health struggles.
However, there are treatments out there that could drastically improve mental health for those struggling in isolation — even those who have not found success with antidepressant medication and therapy in the past. One such treatment is TMS.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation — What is it?
Though the effectiveness of TMS against depression is well-documented and supported by mental health experts, it is considered an alternative treatment to more common methods such as medication and talk therapy. Because of this, many patients don’t know much about TMS therapy for depression and other disorders. We have the answers to all of your questions here.
What is TMS therapy?
TMS therapy is a non-invasive, FDA-approved procedure that uses electromagnets to send magnetic pulses through specific areas of the brain. TMS is most often used for treatment-resistant depression, which is a form of depression that doesn’t seem to get better from medications and therapy alone. Some patients try three or four different antidepressant medications before they become TMS therapy patients.
TMS therapy has been found to be incredibly effective. Some studies show up to a 60% success rate in decreasing depression, and many patients enter full remission — feeling absolutely no symptoms of depression — just weeks after starting their treatment.
How does it work?
During your TMS therapy sessions, you are not under any sedation or anesthesia. You will sit in a reclined chair and a small magnetic coil will be placed lightly on your head. This coil is positioned on top of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, or DLPFC, which is associated with mood and cognition.
Throughout the session, you will hear clicking sounds (sometimes earplugs are worn to minimize the noise) and feel tapping sensations on the head. This indicates that the coil is delivering magnetic pulses to stimulate nerve cells in the brain and increase activity in the DLPFC. The majority of patients do not feel any pain during the session or report side effects afterwards — of the side effects reported, mild headache is the most common.
The length of your treatment plan will vary based on the severity of your symptoms and the strength of your response to TMS. Sessions typically last between 20 minutes and an hour, and are usually five days per week for four to six weeks.
Is TMS therapy right for me?
Those with treatment-resistant depression may feel concerned about whether or not TMS can help them. Luckily, TMS has been found to be highly effective in those who have not found success with other treatments, as well as in young people who may develop adverse side effects from antidepressants.
TMS therapy has been approved for nearly every patient to use. However, because TMS involves magnetic stimulation of the brain, there are some individuals who do not qualify for the treatment. Those with any non-removable metal objects or devices implanted into their heads, necks, or faces should not be treated with TMS, as the magnetic pulse will impact those metals, causing them to move or heat up.
If you have any of the following, your doctor may recommend against TMS therapy:
- Aneurysm coils or clips
- Neck or brain stents
- Deep brain stimulators
- Electrodes for monitoring brain activity
- Metallic implants in the ears and/or eyes (e.g. cochlear implants)
- Shrapnel or bullet pieces in head/neck area
- Facial tattoos with metallic or magnetic-sensitive ink
- Permanent piercings
Those with braces or dental fillings should not have any issues with TMS. As with any new treatment plan, be sure to talk with a doctor before starting your journey with TMS therapy.
Does TMS treat other mental illnesses?
COVID-19 has increased symptoms of mental illnesses other than depression. PTSD, OCD, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder have grown in prevalence over the past year as well. Luckily, TMS can treat each of these disorders.
There is no known cure for depression or anxiety. However, getting TMS therapy for your depression could make you feel better than ever before.
Though the COVID-19 pandemic has had a tremendous mental, physical, and emotional toll on the world, experts have hope for the future.
Recently, doctors and public health experts have expressed a newfound optimism about the future of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the United States, there is a decreasing trend in new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths that will likely continue for the foreseeable future. Thanks mostly to vaccination efforts, the social activities that improve our mental health are much safer, reducing both depression stemming from isolation and anxiety about infection.
For those who continue to struggle with managing their mental health, therapists find hope in TMS therapy. The use of TMS therapy for depression, anxiety, and other disorders could reverse the worrisome trends in mental health that we have seen over the past year.
TMS therapy has been able to help those whose depression has resisted antidepressants and talk therapy alone, and is a treatment that can reduce depression symptoms both significantly and quickly. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety, talk to your doctor about trying TMS therapy. You could be feeling like yourself again in mere weeks!