19 million Americans live with depression.
Erica Hansen was one of them. Was, the operative word.
“I just survived life. I wasn’t living,” she said. “I was on a lot of different medications, I was hospitalized quite often.”
Life was part of a chemical haze. Erica had struggled with depression most of her life; she was on a cocktail of the more “safe” depression drugs, but had become what doctors call, medication-resistant.
She had reached the absolute bottom. She was contemplating suicide, even though she was pregnant with her second child.
“It seems hard to understand – being pregnant and suicidal. But I was absolutely desperate," Erica said.
At that point, her therapist recommended a breakthrough therapy: Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) therapy.
The therapy sends magnetic pulses into the brain, stimulating the areas that are thought to control mood. A small, hand-sized device is placed on the patient’s head, and intermittent tapping – some describe like a “baby woodpecker” – begins. Patients are fully awake during the therapy.
Each treatment takes roughly 40 minutes, five times a week, for up to eight weeks for the initial therapy. Sometimes, maintenance treatment is required.
The therapy is approved by the FDA, and recently became covered by certain insurance providers for treatment of major depression.
According to psychiatrist Dr. John Fleming, half of patients report significant improvement in their depression; one-third have their depression disappear.
“We’re really pleased with the results,” said Dr. Fleming, the only psychiatrist in Southern Colorado to use the TMS machine. He’s been practicing for 38 years, and using the TMS machine for the last 16 months.
"One of the problems with medications for depression is that when everything is said and done, only about 50-percent of people get a sustained and enduring relief -- if their depression is of the severe type," said Dr. Fleming.
With depression drugs, side effects range from weight gain, dizziness, constipation, diarrhea, and mental confusion, according to Dr. Fleming. Often times with TMS therapy, prescription drugs can be minimized, and in some cases, eliminated.
Without insurance coverage, TMS therapy typically costs $12,000.
Expensive? Not to those who have been dealing with the fallout from depression, according to Dr. Fleming.
“When they look at what depression has cost them and their families in terms of missed opportunities, TMS is less expensive than a year of depression,” said Dr. Fleming.
For Erica – and her family – it was a worth-while investment.
"I was able to get up every day and face everyday's challenges, and find the beauty in life that I could never find before," smiled Erica.