Magnetic stimulation offers hope for depression

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By: Christopher Talbot (@CDTalbot)

When most people think about depression treatment, medication and psychology are the most obvioussolutions. But around 30 per cent of patients diagnosed with clinical depression don’t respond to these traditional treatments.

At the Monash Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre (MAPrc), Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is giving hope to those suffering severe treatment resistant depression- and delivering some promising results.

TMS provides a brief magnetic pulse to the scalp to activate brain neurons, says deputy director of the MAPrc Professor Paul Fitzgerald.

“By re-establishing strong connections between these brain areas, we hope that essentially what’s happening is we’re restoring a normal pattern of connectivity in the brain.”

The magnetic pulses are applied using a coil resting lightly on the patient’s head. These pulses are very rapid and the magnetic field causes the nerve cells to fire, increasing their activity.

The treatment, which is done while patients are awake, has no known side-effects and is non-invasive.

“The sensation for the patient can vary quite a lot. It’s a bit like a little woodpecker bird banging on your head, but most patients tolerate it really well and some even fall asleep during treatment,” Professor Fitzgerald said.

TMS is becoming more widely accepted as a viable treatment method for depression and other mental health issues. The MAPrc TMS program is exploring ways of refining and improving the delivery of treatment; tailoring treatment to ensure that it is of maximum benefit to every patient.

Results varied between trials, but “a very good response is usually seen in somewhere between 30 and 50 per cent of patients”.

Prof Fitzgerald said the treatment also had potential to treat some schizophrenia and autism sufferers, by stimulating different areas of the brain.

“It certainly has potential applications beyond depression,” he said.

Some patients even felt as through their depression had completely subsided after TMS treatment.

“I saw a patient yesterday who was in his forties who felt that he hadn’t been as good as he was now since his teenage years,” he said.

Although TMS is currently being trialled by those who are unable to take medication, there is potential for the treatment to be more widespread and include those that simply do not want to rely on pharmaceuticals for treatment.


For more information on TMS and the work undertaken at MAPrc visit

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