[Harvard Medical School] Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS): Hope for stubborn depression
Depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States among people ages 15 to 44. While there are many effective treatments for depression, first-line approaches such as antidepressants and psychotherapy do not work for everyone. In fact, approximately two-thirds of people with depression don’t get adequate relief from the first antidepressant they try. After two months of treatment, at least some symptoms will remain for these individuals, and each subsequent medication tried is actually less likely to help than the one prior.
What can people with depression do when they do not respond to first-line treatments? For several decades, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT or “shock therapy”) was the gold standard for treatment-resistant depression. In fact, ECT is still considered to be the most potent and effective treatment for this condition, and it continues to be used regularly across the country. For many people with depression, however, ECT can be too difficult to tolerate due to side effects on memory and cognition. For those individuals and the many others who have had an inadequate response to medications and therapy alone, there is a newer treatment option called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).