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What is TMS? How the therapy could help treat depression

With more people suffering from depression, alternative treatments like TMS are becoming more popular.

WESLEY CHAPEL, Fla. — Since the start of the pandemic, health care means more than just treating our physical ailments. It means taking care of our mental health as well. According to the World Health Organization, there's a 25% increase in people suffering from anxiety and depression and looking for help. Sometimes, traditional therapy and medications simply don't do the job. 

Kimberly O'Neal is just finishing her first week of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy under the supervision of Dr. Khaled Bowarshi of the Florida TMS Clinic in Wesley Chapel. 

Bowarshi explains what it is, saying, "Transcranial means through the skull and magnetic stimulation means we use magnetic pulses to activate the brain to kind of get it back to normal function."

O'Neal says you do feel it. "It just feels like somebody doing a really heavy-duty massage, where they're hitting it hard enough that when they're done, your scalp actually relaxes."  

O'Neal has suffered from severe bouts of depression for a long time and tried several different medications, she was ready for something new. "So 20 years later, I'm over the medication. I would like to have my life back. I would like to enjoy the final third, what we call it. The final third."

Dr. Bowarshi is dedicated to helping his patients do just that. But TMS therapy does require a commitment, 5 days a week for 6 weeks. "When we do it repetitively like this, we train the brain back to normal function and normal rhythm."

But again, it's non-invasive. The patient remains alert and active and can go about their day normally after the therapy. "When you have a treatment that patients are coming to me after they fail so many things and then I provide this treatment and they're doing better and they are so grateful because everything else did not work, that gives me the kind of satisfaction that I would not replace my job for the world. "

O'Neal is just happy to try something new. "I am so thrilled to be able to do this."

TMS has been an FDA-approved treatment for major depression since 2008. More and more insurers are covering it, but only after other medications and therapies have failed.     

Studies are still being done on how TMS can be used to help people. The FDA recently approved its use for the treatment of anxiety disorder or anxious depression, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and nicotine addiction.

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