Thursday, April 18, 2024

Finally Finding Normal with New Treatment for Severe Depression and Anxiety

For those struggling with depression, the onset of a depressive episode is a terrible but familiar feeling. It can be even more distressing when a depressive episode occurs on top of treatment with antidepressants–indicating that the medications, which had once been a panacea for this debilitating mental illness, aren’t working anymore.

“At first antidepressants worked until they didn’t. And you could feel the depression coming on. It’s like you can see this dark storm cloud and you try to avoid it, you try to stop it, you think you can stop the storm, but you can’t stop the storm,” says Suzy, a Cape Fear resident [age] who has battled depression her entire life.

And Suzy isn’t alone. At least one in five Americans will be affected by mental illness at some point during their life. The most common of these mental illnesses–anxiety disorders, including obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)–affect 19.1% of adults in the US (40 million people). And nearly 5% of all adults suffer from depression. In the United States, it is the leading cause of disability for people aged 15 – 44 years old.

Depression, anxiety, and OCD can burden nearly every aspect of daily life and sometimes lead to self-harm. For Suzy, one of the most difficult parts of depression was the hopelessness, “I would lose interest in everything that I loved. I couldn’t read books; I couldn’t focus on them. I was going through the motions and not finding joy or sunshine in anything.”

When SSRI’s Aren’t Enough

The most common treatments for depression and anxiety are Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors or “SSRIs.” These include well-known medications such as Prozac (Fluoxetine) and Zoloft (Sertraline). While SSRI treatments work for some, studies show, however, that with treatment-resistant major depression and anxiety, 10%-30% of people do not receive the relief they need from SSRIs.

Even for those who do find SSRIs effective, there are also a number of challenging side-effects to consider. Whether it’s weight gain, sexual dysfunction, or insomnia, some of these side-effects can feel as debilitating as the mental illness symptoms themselves.

Psychiatry specialist Dr. Aaron Albert, founder of the Center for Brain Stimulation in Wilmington, NC, remembers the devastation that patients with treatment-resistant depression faced in the past, “When I first started practicing, the only other options we had were hospitalization and electroshock therapy,” he says.

A Game-Changing Discovery in Mental Health

But now, there’s a new method of treatment that is non-invasive and has minimal to no negative side effects. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), first pioneered in the 1980s, has slowly become one of the most trusted alternatives to medication in mental health.

TMS provides its treatment through the innovative use of magnetic coils. This treatment then uses brief electromagnetic pulses to pass through the cranium and stimulate the underactive portions of the brain associated with depression, anxiety, and OCD. The treatment is similar to other non-invasive medical techniques like ultrasound and MRI–however the results are impressive. Current statistics show that at least 70% of TMS patients feel relief from previous resistant severe depression and anxiety, or OCD.

“Not only does TMS have the highest success rate of any outpatient treatment, it also has the least side effects and has changed our understanding of depression from a serotonin problem, treated with SSRIs, to a brain network problem,” Albert says. “We’re seeing that we can actually modify a brain network with TMS and not even touch the serotonin. It’s essentially the greatest advance in the treatment of mental illness in my life.”

TMS in the Cape Fear

Dr. Albert’s clinic, The Center for Brain Stimulation, is one of the only facilities in the Cape Fear Region that specializes specifically in TMS therapy to treat depression, anxiety, and OCD, despite the fact that the treatment is now covered by most medical insurance companies.

For Suzy, access to TMS treatment at the Center for Brain Stimulation was transformative. After a lifelong battle with depression, she’s finally on the other side: “I just had no idea what normal people felt like, it’s life-changing.”


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