WASHINGTON — Depression is more than just feeling sad. It’s a serious disease that interferes with normal life, a sense of self-worth, and it can end in suicide. Some people do well with standard treatments like talk therapy or medication, but these treatments don’t always work. Fortunately, there are other treatments people can try.
Soyna Kibbee likes playing pickleball. It’s a game that is similar to tennis only the rackets are smaller and the ball is different.
Kibbee is a physical therapist in Columbia, Missouri. She is normally active, but last year, because of severe depression, she had trouble making simple decisions.
“Just dumb little decisions that we make and don’t even think about, I have to think about. And then it just gets me more stressed out because every little decision is hard,” Kibbee said.
People who are depressed are often listless. Depression affects eating habits and can interfere with sleep.
Even with medication and therapy, Kibbee thought about suicide and was hospitalized several times. Then she heard about Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, or TMS. It doesn’t involve surgery, and it doesn’t require anesthesia.
TMS uses a coil to deliver powerful magnetic pulses to the brain. Doctor Muaid Ithman runs the TMS program at University of Missouri Health Care.
“These pulses will stimulate neurotransmitters which are the chemical signals which will improve the communication between different regions of the brain that are responsible for mood regulations. And over time, this will improve the symptoms of depression,” Ithman said.
During the procedure, patients feel like someone is gently tapping on their head, which can cause a headache. Kibbee took a non-prescription pain reliever before her treatments. After just one week, she noticed a real difference.
“I just felt so much better,” Kibbee said.
After more than 30 treatments, her symptoms of depression almost disappeared. Ithman says the therapy can help when other methods don’t.
“Basically 50 or 60 percent of people who suffer from treatment resistant depression will see a clinically meaningful response to TMS. And one third of those people will go into remission, which means their symptoms completely go away,” Ithman said.
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health says two large studies on the safety of TMS found that most side effects, such as headaches or scalp discomfort, were mild or moderate. Because the treatment is relatively new, however, long-term side effects are unknown, and more studies are needed.
As for Kibbee, it worked. She returned to work and picked up pickleball and her other activities once again.