Magnet Helps Treat Depression - NBC4 Washington

Magnet Helps Treat Depression

Using magnetic force on brain has similar effect as medication



    Magnet Helps Treat Depression
    Getty Images/Purestock
    Feeling blue? Try applying a magnetic field to your brain.

    Fighting depression is a tough battle for many people because medications don't always work. Now a new treatment is using magnets to help people find happiness again.

    "Things weren't getting done. I wasn't going to work or I had no interest in going to work," said Richard Hannotte.

    That was the first time Hannotte realized something was wrong. He said he was depressed and it was more than just feeling a little blue. It's a battle he's been fighting for the past 25 years.

    "For me, it was just my whole level of productivity and it just started to dwindle," Hannotte said. "I've often been self employed and I just stopped working and stopped making money and again that continued to cause more depressive episodes."

    The Mental Health Magnet

    [DC] The Mental Health Magnet
    Fighting depression can be a tough battle for many people. That's because medications don't always work. Now a new treatment is using magnets to help people find happiness again.
    (Published Thursday, May 21, 2009)

    He tried therapy and antidepressants but he experienced negative side effects with medications. He then turned to holistic approachs like accupuncture and herbal supplements. Years passed and nothing worked.

    Then he heard about an experimental procedure called transcranial magnetic stimulation or TMS.

    Psychiatrist Dr. Scott Aaronson runs the TMS program at Sheppard Pratt mental health system in Baltimore.

    "We apply magnetic stimulation to an area of the brain that we've associated with depression," Aaronson said. "It's an area of the brain that we can consistently see has decreased activity in depression."

    Applying a magnetic field to a certain part of the brain helps to increase the amount of neurotransmitters in the body, including serotonin and dopamine, Aaronson said. Decreases in those substances have been linked to depression.

    "Those are the same chemicals we are trying to adjust through our use of medications so this is an approach through magnets that may cause some of same changes in levels of neurotransmitters that antidepressants do."

    Patients undergo the treatment five days a week, for four weeks, Aaronson said. Each session is about 37 and a half minutes. Some patients find it uncomfortable.

    "It feels kind of like a woodpecker, pecking at your head," Aaronson said.

    But at least two-thirds of the people he's worked with have found relief for their depression. While most combine TMS with some type of antidepressant, Richard Hannotte didn't need to. He said he finally feels like the dark cloud has been lifted.

    "After a week of that, I really started noticing the differences," he said. "I started feeling less depressed and more like myself. I was really happy about that and it didn't come with any of the side effects."

    Doctors at Sibley Hospital in D.C. are also offering the treatment right now.

    Others are testing this procedure for PTSD and schizophrenia patients.

    While it was approved by the FDA to treat depression last October, insurance companies aren't paying for it yet. It costs between $6 to 9,000 for the entire four-week treatment.