Missoula offers unique treatment for depression


MISSOULA, Mont. - Montana has ranked in the top five for highest suicide rates in the nation for the past 30 years.

Missoula is the only city in Montana to provide Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Treatment, or TMS, which is a treatment for depression.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Kay Jennings sees patients who have been suffering with depression for years and have tried multiple antidepressant medicines. According to Jennings, nothing worked until they tried TMS.

"Two or three of them have never felt good; they come in and get their treatment and they go out and get their jobs back, their lives back, their family back, start living their life again," said Jennings.

Jennings explained how the machine works. The patient sits in a chair and a headband is placed on their head between the cortexes. Then doctors put an electromagnetic coil next to the patient's scalp, which creates electric currents that cause the patients head to vibrate.

"It stimulates the prefrontal cortex of the brain with a deep magnetic stimulation," said Jennings.

According to the Mayo Clinic, TMS isn't completely understood, but it's thought to activate neurons in the brain that haven't been stimulated due to depression through magnetic pulses.

"The brain starts singing again -- that's how I describe it to the patients that do it," said Jennings.

TMS has been used in Europe since 1985, according to the International Neuromodulation Society, but started being used in the U.S. about 10 years ago.

The FDA approved TMS about four years ago and recently made it a second treatment option, if antidepressants were unsuccessful in treating the patient.

"As a psychiatric nurse practitioner, I do a lot of meds and I see that meds do not help a vast majority of people with depression. Medications have not been effective," said Jennings.

According to Jennings, a patient's typical treatment will last around 40 sessions, once a day, five times a week and anywhere from four to six weeks. Jennings says after the first round of sessions patients usually will not return because their depression has gone away, although Jennings has had some patients return for additional sessions if their depression returns.

Patients have to undergo some tests to make sure TMS is a good treatment option.

Jennings says TMS has minor side effects compared to other treatments like antidepressants, and is the least invasive of brain stimulation procedures.

Side effects of TMS can include headaches, scalp discomfort at the site of stimulation, light-headedness, tingling, spasms or twitching of facial muscles, discomfort from noise of treatment and, in rare situations, there may be seizures.