Magnetic stimulation helmet helping those with depression

SEATTLE -- For many, depression is a serious illness that seems impossible to overcome, but now there’s hope for those who have had no luck with their medication.

A sophisticated helmet is changing people’s lives that has worked for some.

“I lost the feeling of joy for many, many years,” said Jan Webb, who has used the depression helmet.

Webb has battled depression for 35 years and it was something that impacted her entire life.

“It was to the point where all I wanted to do was stay in bed. I was an avid exerciser and I stopped exercising. I stopped being social,” said Webb.

For years she took medications that didn’t work long term. She was hospitalized 5 times and then Webb learned about a different type of treatment.

It’s a helmet-like device that creates stimulation to the brain.

It’s known as deep transcranial magnetic stimulation known as TMS.

“The machine creates very brief magnetic pulses. It’s about the same pattern as an MRI, localized to that area of the brain,” said Dr. Rebecca Bay, with Binnacle Psychiatry.

The helmet creates the same effect as electric convulsion therapy, but it’s non-invasive and easier on the patient with minimal risk, which can include headache or jaw pain.

“Patient drives themselves to the office, we put the helmet on and 20 minutes later they drive away and go back to work,” said Bay.

Patients undergo treatment for several weeks for a couple of months and then they’re done. Some require follows up.

Currently the device is only used to treat depression and Dr. Bay is only treating people whose medications have failed them.

“78% of patients nationwide will report significant improvement and about 50% will report their symptoms have resolved,” added Dr. Bay.

Webb started the TMS procedure in August of last year. Three months later, she says she was a changed person.

“I think after two weeks of treatment I started noticing the difference. It was like, wow, this is really working,” said Webb.

Only a handful of these machines exists in the Puget Sound area and Dr. Bay says it’s slowly gaining popularity but some psychiatrists aren’t always quick to accept new technology.

Treatment costs can range between $8 to $10 thousand dollars if insurance doesn’t cover it.

Webb still takes some medication for her depression, but she says the costs is worth it.

“Every little aspect with life there was drudgery, I have to do this, I have to do that. I don’t’ experience that any more it’s gone,” added Webb.

Research is now on going to try and use the TMS helmet to treat other psychiatric problems.