Magnetic pulse used to beat depression

MUMBAI: For 20 times over four weeks, Stuti (name changed) sat in a special chair and had a magnetic coil placed over her scalp for 30 minutes. Diagnosed with major depression, the 27-year-old had quit her job, contemplated suicide and was on the verge of divorcing her husband of three years.

“Undergoing repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) was the last-ditch attempt to save my marriage and sanity,” says Stuti, who was initially ecstatic about moving to Mumbai from Bangalore. A dress designer, she was confident work would be stimulating here. But four months into an arranged marriage with a businessman, the cracks showed.

Depression, the most common psychological disorder, affects one in every 10 Indians. “When Stuti came to me, she had major depression that would have needed a high dose of pills and intense counselling,” said psychiatrist Shamsah Sonawalla from Trans Mag Well-Being Clinic. Reluctant to take medication, she chose rTMS, usually reserved for treatment-resistant depression. Stuti is among the growing number of depressive patients who are trying out alternatives: Yoga, meditation, angel therapy and post-life regression, along with psychological treatment.

It is believed rTMS produces changes in neuronal activity in area of the brain that control mood. “After the sessions, we went on a European vacation and I started my boutique,” Stuti said. Now, a year after the treatment, she is pregnant.

Dr Sonawalla, who picked up rTMS at Harvard Medical School where she was a faculty, said western research has shown that the rates of remission are higher in patients undergoing a combination of rTMS and antidepressant treatment than those on antidepressants alone.

Her study of 185 people with major depression (83 with treatment-resistant depression & 102 with moderate to severe major depression) showed a high degree of remission. “While 59% of 83 patients with treatment-resistant forms responded, 41% are now in remission,” said Dr Sonawalla. Remission is a period with no residual symptoms. “Usually, 30% patients respond to other treatments.”

Psychiatrist Dr Harish Shetty said, “The milder varieties respond to exercise, yoga, counselling, while others may need medication, psychotherapy and non-pharmacological help.” The key to end depression is early identification, he said.