Utah has one of the highest rates of mental illness in the country and one of the lowest rates of people seeking treatment.
In his practice Dr. Howard Weeks, Psychiatrist at University of Utah Healthcare, uses what is known as Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), a magnetic method used to stimulate small regions of the brain.
“This involves placing a MRI strength magnet over the frontal temporal lobe of the brain and that magnet turns on and off, it oscillates. As that happens it generates a small electrical current that only goes three to five centimeters through the skull into the brain.
“It provides a magnetic way to electrically stimulate the brain. But it’s not enough of an stimulation to mirror what is known as shock therapy or electric convulsive therapy.”
However, he said it is enough to stimulate those brain cells under the magnet.
“It’s a non-pharmacologic way of stimulating the part of the brain that we use medicines to hit, also, when we are treating depression.”
Dr. Weeks said when brains cells are stimulated they start to fire, or release chemicals. That is similar to giving a patient a medication and the medicine causes the brain cells to fire.
“So TMS is a way of stimulating brain cells without using a medicine. It releases neurochemicals that then do something in the brain that helps depression.”
He said it is not a painful procedure.
Survey numbers indicate 40-to-60 percent of patients improve with TMS treatments while 25-to-40 percent have their depression go away.
“Our initial series is 30 treatments, once a day five days a week. It takes about six weeks to get someone through an initial series. It usually takes three to four weeks before people start responding. The last two and a half weeks the patient is getting the best benefit and solidifying the gains.”