Depression… It's a debilitating disease that affects nearly a quarter of the population.
While progress has been made over the years, there is still a stigma attached that makes sufferers of sever depression feel alone.
But there is a new treatment available and the results are promising. The new treatment has nothing to do with medication and everything to do with magnets.
There is only one doctor here in the Central Valley who performs the procedure and he hopes to spread the word so more people can get the help they need. It's the equivalent of bottles and bottles of pills and it promises hope just ahead.
Doctor Edgar Castillo-Armas is the first of his kind here in the Valley. “We are sort of the pioneers here and trying to spread the word,” said Dr. Castillo.
Dr. Castillo is spreading the word about a new therapy recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat severe depression. It's called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation or TMS. “It is the application of intermittent pulsations to the left side of the brain in the frontal area to the area that is called the mood center in the brain.”
The machine looks a little intimidating but Dr. Castillo says it’s very much link an MRI. “It's the same technology as the MRI. MRI are magnetic pulsations but the MRI of course takes a picture of the brain in this case we, a very localized area of the brain is stimulated with these pulsations.”
Patient Lynda Coombs explained the feeling is much like a woodpecker, pecking on your head. “It was uncomfortable at first because I just didn't know what to expect,” said Lynda.
Lynda says it’s uncomfortable at times but not too bad. She underwent the typical treatment series of 30 sessions, 37 minutes every day, Monday through Friday, for 6 weeks. “I was excited to just and very hopeful that there was something out there that might be able to help,” said Lynda.
Coombs was willing to try anything that might ease her life long battle with depression. “I remember being depressed even when I was a little girl. Like 4 or 5,” said Lynda.
As she got older, the depression got worse. “Just a real dark, like your in this really dark pit and you're falling, you're falling, and your falling and your falling and you can't stop falling. It's despair, ultimate despair,” said Lynda.
But the stigma attached to the disease caused Lynda to keep her pain inside. “I learned to hide it. I learned to hide it real well. So that no one knew,” said Lynda.
In college, Lynda met her husband, Nathan. She continued to deal with her depression but after the birth of their third child, things got really bad but she did her best to hide it from loved ones. “I knew what she was going through -- I didn't know how bad it was,” said Nathan.
Eventually, Lynda knew she needed professional help. She was put on medication, which helped at first, but it didn't last long. “What happens is after a while you take things and then it's like your body gets used to them, and then they don't work anymore. So then I'd have to keep changing and changing and trying different things,” said Lynda.
Lynda later found herself in yet another pit of despair. She was referred to Dr. Castillo. “You have to take into account that these are severely depressed patients who have not responded to 1, 2, 3 or sometimes 4 or 5 different antidepressant medications,” said Dr. Castillo.
He explains that the therapy works in much the same way medication does, only without the side effects. “Antidepressant medications do the same. They go to the actual cells and stimulate the production of certain neurotransmitters. The difference is that before they do that, they go through the liver, through the thyroid. This goes directly to the mood center in the brain and stimulates the cells with magnetic pulses to make them produce more of the neurotransmitters that the body needs,” said Dr. Castillo.
Lynda says TMS changed her life. “I was able to function so much better. I was able to get up get dressed. I was not as antisocial. Instead of in a little tiny box in the corner all alone, I was part of the world again,” said Lynda.
It sounds very good, but is there a downside to TMS?
Doctor Robert Oldham is Medical Director for Fresno County Behavioral Health and he says one downside is the cost. “It's not covered by many insurance plans and it's very inconvenient. So people have to go in to a psychiatrists office for 40 minutes every day for sometimes 4 to 6 weeks to get a treatment, and it can cost tens of thousands of dollars that people often have to pay out of pocket,” said Dr. Oldham.
Aside from the price, Dr. Oldham says TMS is a good treatment. “The first line of treatment for depression is antidepressant medication and talk therapy, which are very effective. But some people don't respond. So for select groups of people, TMS can be helpful,” said Dr. Oldham.
Lynda says she is one of those people Dr. Oldham is talking about. For her, TMS, combined with the love and support of her husband, keep her going. “One of the things that happens when you have severe depression is that your self esteem plummets, and you don't think that you're worthy of anyone loving you. He never stopped loving me, he didn't give up on me, and that he always encouraged me to keep trying.
To learn more about TMC, click on the related links.
You can also watch a question and answer video with Doctor Robert Oldham and Doctor Edgar Castillo-Armas by clicking the Q&A link.