Is TMS Therapy the Secret to Treating Treatment-Resistant Depression?
Like any other illness, mental illness can affect any person at any time. Despite this fact, men often feel pressure to remain silent about struggling with their mental health. Denying men social support for these common but very important problems is dangerous-- sometimes, even deadly. Thankfully, we have the power to change the way we deal with male mental illness. To draw attention to this issue, MensHealth.com recently ran a feature on one man’s experience with Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) Therapy, a non-drug non-invasive therapy designed to provide relief for those with treatment-resistant depression.
By continuing to share his story, we hope to spread awareness about:
- The prevalence of depression and other forms of mental illness in adult men
- What TMS therapy is and how it works
- How TMS therapy can change your life and restore emotional wellbeing
Understanding Male Mental Illness and Depression
Both men and women experience depression, but people of different genders who face different social pressures-- perhaps unsurprisingly-- experience the mental illness in very different ways. Women are more likely to share their feelings of sadness or hopelessness, often making their depression easier to spot. Men who are depressed, on the other hand, often appear angry or aggressive, which sometimes makes their depression less obvious.
Everyone feels sad or helpless at some point in their life, but when these feelings persist for longer than a few days or weeks, we recognize this pattern of mental and behavioral health as a depressive disorder. While depression affects every person, male or female, differently, here are a few common symptoms of depressive disorders in men:
- Irritability, anger, and aggression
- Anxiety, restlessness, or inability to relax
- Loss of interest in work, family, or hobbies
- Decline in sexual desire or problems with sexual performance
- Feelings of sadness, “emptiness,” or flatness
- Inability to concentrate or remember details
- Exhaustion or changes in sleep pattern (sleeping too much or too little)
- Drastic changes in eating (consuming much too much or much too little food)
- Physical aches and pains, including headaches and digestive trouble
- Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
- Engaging in high-risk activities
- Abusing substances like drugs or alcohol in an attempt to “self-medicate”
- Emotional withdrawal or social isolation
Please note that if you or someone you know is experiencing any number of these symptoms, you should talk to a mental healthcare provider right away. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger or experiencing a mental health emergency, call 911 for immediate assistance.
For more detailed information about how depression affects women, check out this excellent guide to female depression symptoms provided by the National Institute of Mental Health.
So what is TMS therapy, anyway?
Major Depression and other depressive disorders can be difficult to treat because everybody experiences depressive symptoms differently. When someone is experiencing depression-- whether it is an episode of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), bipolar depression, post-traumatic depression, or any other form of the disorder-- the first line of treatment is usually a combination of antidepressant medication and talk therapy.
For many people, these therapies can provide significant relief, but unfortunately they are not effective for everyone. When antidepressants and therapy don’t work, some people struggling with depression turn to brain stimulation therapies.
TMS Therapy is a brain stimulation therapy that uses magnetic pulses to stimulate brain cells in areas of the brain that may be underactive in people with depression. This stimulation helps those brain cells function more effectively, producing neurotransmitters that are related to mental wellbeing. Dr. Kalyan Dandala of Associated Behavioral Healthcare, a NeuroStar TMS Therapy provider, describes the process as “waking up a part of the brain that’s been dormant.”
Is TMS therapy and effective treatment for depression?
While research into using TMS to treat depression began decades ago, it has become a regular part of depression treatment only within the last 10 years or so, following its FDA approval in 2008. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, TMS therapy is effective in more than 50% of patients, including those whose depressive symptoms have been resistant to other forms of depression treatment.
One Man’s Journey to Mental Wellness and Depression Remission with TMS Therapy
In March 2018, Benjamin (whose last name has been withheld to ensure his privacy) was 26 years old and had been suffering from depression for several years. He felt like he had tried everything to manage his depression symptoms-- therapy, medication, you name it. None of them had provided him with the relief he was looking for.
That’s when Benjamin’s therapist recommended he try TMS therapy. He later recounted his experience with depression and TMS therapy to Jordyn Taylor, the editor of MensHealth.com. We hope that by sharing his story, we can provide hope to others who may be struggling to find an effective treatment for their own depressive symptoms.
Diagnosing Anxiety and Depression
For Benjamin, the struggle to maintain mental wellness began shortly after his high school graduation. He moved to Seattle to pursue a culinary career, impressing everyone (including himself) with how well he was able to handle the stress of so many simultaneous life changes-- graduating, beginning life on his own, starting a career.
However after a few years, it became clear that the stress was having a serious impact on Benjamin’s mental health. “I was having panic attacks and feelings of ‘I just can’t handle this,’” he recalls. “I was working at my first restaurant job, and I can vividly remember having a mental breakdown while I was cooking during a rush… The anxiety kept building and building until it erupted, and I kind of lost it. I was trying to keep a calm face about it, but my coworkers could tell that something was going on. I felt embarrassed, but I had to be like ‘Guys, I need help. I can’t get through this.’”
Shortly after, Benjamin began seeing a therapist, who diagnosed him with anxiety and began medication-based therapy. It took trying several different medications to find one that effectively controlled Benjamin’s anxiety, and at that point, depression took over.
“Anxiety felt like I can’t handle it. Depression is like I don’t care.”
Struggling once again to find an effective medication to manage his symptoms and seeing a few different therapists, Benjamin began to feel like he would never get his depression under control.
Medication and Basic Therapy Aren’t Always Enough
Eventually, a therapist recommended Benjamin for TMS therapy because he had tried several classes of antidepressant medication and none of them had worked. At first, Benjamin wasn’t sold on the idea. TMS therapy sounded strange and futuristic, and the idea of going in for 30 minute TMS therapy sessions several times a week was daunting.
However, after some careful thought and consultation with his therapist, Benjamin decided to give TMS therapy a try.
Starting TMS Therapy
Although most of Benjamin’s TMS therapy sessions were a convenient 30 minutes, the first appointment took a little bit longer. The first appointment involved several key tasks, which added about an hour to the usual appointment:
- Determining which part of the brain was responsible for his depression symptoms
- Mapping the brain’s activity and function
- Calibrating the best dose for initial treatment
According to Benjamin, when you receive TMS therapy you sit in a chair similar to what you’d sit in at the dentist’s office. Then they use the machine, which is a “TMS coil that kind of cups the top back part of your head” to target a region in the upper left area of the brain that is responsible for mood.
It felt like a tapping sensation. “I joked that I want to look around and see this woodpecker sitting on the chair poking at my head periodically,” recalls Benjamin.
The TMS technician tested several strengths of magnetic pulse to find one that was effective but not painful. Benjamin also notes that this part of the appointment was difficult because receiving the treatment brought up a lot of emotions. “But what I really loved about the process from day one was the TMS specialist told me, ‘We care about you and your journey through this, so we’re here for you.’”
How TMS Therapy Can Change Your Life
Benjamin knew that TMS therapy wasn’t magic-- it wouldn’t be like flipping a switch or casting a spell to transform his brain. He remembers some days when he wasn’t sure whether or not the treatment was working at all.
But people started noticing. On a phone call with his dad, Benjamin was told his whole demeanor had changed. One of his friends remarked how much happier he appeared to be. After a few weeks, Benjamin reports “feeling like myself again.”
Instead of struggling to get through the present moment, Benjamin even began to think about the future. “Interestingly enough, I’ve been entertaining the idea of going into the mental health field… I want to give people the hope that I was given-- to tell people that it’s okay, [depression] isn’t a forever thing. You can overcome this.”
Benjamin is just one of many people whose mental wellbeing has been restored by TMS therapy. If you or someone you know is experiencing depressive symptoms that haven’t been managed by medication or therapy, book an appointment to talk to one of our TMS specialists today and take the first steps on your journey towards a brighter future.