A day before May ushered in National Mental Health Awareness Month, the death of country music star Naomi Judd shined a light on the nation’s mental health crisis. Judd committed suicide after a decade-long battle against depression, which she documented in her memoir River of Time. In it, she wrote: “I wanted to confess that if someone took out a gun and killed me onstage, he would be doing me a favor.” In the end, she turned the gun on herself.
Depression is a disease that affects about 16 million American adults every year. “About one out of every six adults will have depression at some time in their life,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mental health experts say it is normal to feel sad after the death of a loved one, losing a job or ending a relationship. But depression is different. It is prolonged and can affect mood, sleep and eating habits. People with very severe depression might have hallucinations and suicidal thoughts.
“When people are in a very negative tunnel, and they don’t see that light at the end, they tend to go down a rabbit hole and continue to see only negatives,” said Dr. Patricia Junquera, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral health at the FIU Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine.
The exact cause of depression is unknown. It involves a chemical imbalance in the brain, but it is more complex than that. It may be a combination of factors — genetic, biological and social. It is known to run in families. However, not everyone with a family history will develop depression.
Junquera laments that the stigma that surrounds not only depression but the whole realm of mental illness often keeps people who are suffering from seeking help. Those who do may benefit from standard treatments for depression like drug therapy and/or psychotherapy. “But some people don’t respond to medication or have severe side effects. So, we try other things like TMS,” she said.
TMS is short for Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS), a non-invasive, FDA-cleared treatment for depression that has not responded to treatment with antidepressant medications. It involves using a magnet to target and stimulate the area of the brain where depression originates.
The FIU Health Faculty Group Practice on FIU’s main campus now offers TMS treatments for those suffering from treatment-resistant depression— patients who have already tried at least two types of antidepressants without significant improvement. The treatments are supervised by faculty psychiatrists Dr. Junquera, Dr. Leonard Gralnik, and Dr. Luis Carcache from the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health.
The treatment consists of placing an electromagnetic coil against the patient’s scalp that is protected by a cap. The magnet painlessly delivers a magnetic pulse that stimulates brain cells in the target area. Each TMS treatment lasts about 19 minutes. Patients are awake and alert during the procedure and can return to normal activities immediately after treatment. Junquera says that, unlike antidepressant medications, patients report virtually no side effects from TMS. Most patients only experience discomfort from the magnetic pulses at the treatment site.
TMS can be administered alone or in addition to medication and psychotherapy. However, every patient is unique. It is important to consult with a board-certified psychiatrist to determine the best treatment plan.
To schedule a consultation, call FIU Health at 305-FIU-DOCS (305-348-3627).