Magnets offer hope for major depression; study underway with youth

Published: Sep. 21, 2016 at 1:50 PM EDT
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If you suffered from major depression, or know someone who does, you know how debilitating it can be. If can lead to feelings of hopelessness, isolation and even suicide.

Sadly, fewer than 1 in 3 adults who screen positive for depression get the help they need, leaving millions in pain. But big things are happening to treat depression that takes us beyond talk therapy and anti-depressants.

Beacon Medical Group in South Bend is one of ten sites nationwide now testing transcranial magnetic stimulation on adolescents between the ages of 12 and 21. TMS is already FDA-approved for people 21 and older.

Hillary Doerries of South Bend recently finished TMS therapy at Beacon. She has suffered from depression since she was a teen. "I can remember being a teenager and just remember having days where I felt so sad and would cry for no reason all day long," Hillary recalls.

There was a family history Hillary didn't know about, so she wasn't sure what was wrong until she went to college and met her future husband. "His parents happen to be psychologists, so he said, 'Hillary, do you think you're depressed?' and I sad, hmm, yeah."

While Hillary can laugh about it today, two years ago she was in a very dark place. She ended up hospitalized.

Her psychiatrist, Dr. Jagadeesh Reddy, explained, "Hillary came to me almost two and a half years ago for worsening of depression, and I say worsening of depression because she was also feeling suicidal."

Dr. Reddy was treating Hillary with anti-depressants and therapy at the time, but he thought she would be a good candidate for a new magnet therapy approved for use by the FDA in 2008.

So from Monday through Friday for six weeks, Hillary was hooked up to a horseshoe-like magnet for 40 minutes for a treatment called transcranial magnetic stimulation or TMS.

Dr. Reddy explains how it works: "It's the magnetic stimulation placed on that side of the brain where the depression sensors are located, and it stimulates those depression centers so that you start feeling better. It's a non-invasive technique, there is no pain involved, there's no anesthesia involved."

Hillary calls it a life saver. "TMS did for me what I always hoped my medication would do. I felt that a cloud was lifted from me after treatment."

Beacon Medical is hoping to help children as young as 12.

In fact, they are one of ten hospitals nationwide currently involved in a study testing TMS on younger patients with depression. Dr. Reddy says, "This is an adolescents research study for major depressive disorders in teenagers with an age group of 12 to 21. This is an ongoing study. It's a multi-center study, so we are privileged to be part of this study."

They are still enrolling patients, and you don't need a referral from your doctor. But TMS and its study with adolescents is not the only exciting thing happening at Beacon. Dr. Reddy says they can now swab a patient's cheek to find out what anti-depressants might work and which would not with a test called GeneSight.

Dr. Reddy is trying to give hope to those who feel hopeless. "This is my real desire, to help people, as young as possible, to really help them through major depression."

For Hillary, sitting in a comfortable chair with a painless magnet tapping on her head has ended a more than decade-long battle with depression. "I am free to be the me that I knew was in there the whole time. It helped bring that person back."

Hillary has a blog where she talks about her TMS experience. You can check it out at

TMS is covered by most insurances, even Medicare. One in two patients improves significantly, and one in three is freed of depressive symptoms.

Hillary is now on half the dose of antidepressants she used to be, and she hopes to wean off all her meds by wintertime. If she needs a booster of the TMS at some point, she can get it.

TMS is FDA-approved for depression in people 21 and over. If you are interested in the study for adolescents ages 12 to 21, you can call the Beacon Medical Group at 574-647-8385.