Across America, a significant proportion of young people live with depression. A mental health disorder, depression leads to a wide range of negative consequences, such as social withdrawal, relationship issues, academic failings, substance use disorders, teenage pregnancy, and suicide.
Though medication and therapy are available to treat and ease the symptoms of depression, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy has proven to be beneficial. A form of non-invasive treatment involving brain stimulation, TMS is effective for adults with treatment-resistant depression. But is it an option for teens and kids experiencing depression symptoms?
This article explains precisely how TMS treatments work and the pros and cons of TMS in treating mental health disorders in young people with treatment-resistant major depressive disorder (MDD).
Transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy, or TMS therapy as it is otherwise known, is usually only used if first-line treatments such as medication and talk therapy have been unsuccessful in helping to treat mental health disorders. TMS has high success rates in treating MDD, and it can also be helpful for those with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
TMS treatment involves stimulating the brain. In a transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy session, a TMS technician places an electromagnetic coil near a client's head over a part of the brain called the left prefrontal cortex. This section of the brain is thought to help control mood, which is why stimulation can produce positive changes for specific mental health issues.
During a TMS therapy session, highly focused magnetic pulses are repeatedly released. Lasting between twenty to sixty minutes per session, a course of TMS treatment is usually spread over five days a week for four to six weeks in total.
TMS is a non-invasive procedure, meaning that the coil involves a gentle placement near the forehead rather than being inserted. As a result, those undergoing this treatment remain awake during the procedure and do not need an anesthetic.
In the United States, MDD is alarmingly common. In 2019, studies showed that an estimated 15.7% of adolescents aged between 12 and 17 had at least one major depressive episode. Of this group, major depressive episodes were more common in adolescent females and those who identify as mixed race.
Evidently, some systemic factors lead to mental health disorders, and those in power must address them to ensure a healthy, content teenage population and society. Personal and family history, environmental changes, and social factors can also lead to a mental illness.
As noted above, TMS therapy is usually only used as a form of treatment if first-line treatments have been unsuccessful in producing positive results. For those with treatment-resistant depression, TMS can be a suitable option.
Electrical activity is induced during a TMS session when magnetic pulses move into the brain. The small electrical currents activate specific cells in the brain, which release chemical messengers, such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which are responsible for feelings of happiness. TMS helps restore the balance of these essential brain chemicals, which are often disrupted in someone with depression.
Imaging studies show that people with depressive disorder experience underactivity in the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), so forming new connections and inducing electrical activity in this area eases depression symptoms through TMS therapy.
TMS therapy generally has mild side effects which do not last for long. Some of the common side effects associated with TMS therapy include:
In rare circumstances, it is possible to experience serious side effects, such as:
Depression is a very damaging and dangerous illness, and it can impact relationships, lead to substance abuse, and affect education and work. Major depression is the leading cause of disability in young people aged 10 to 19.
It is well known that depression can lead to suicidal thoughts. Among adolescents, suicide is the third most common cause of death, and over 500,000 suicide attempts are made by children every year. For this reason, effective forms of treatment must be considered to help children and adolescents experiencing depression symptoms. Left untreated, depression in children often continues into adolescence and adulthood.
As with many other treatments, there are pros and cons of TMS treatment when it comes to easing depression in children and adolescents. It is not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but multiple studies show it to be effective and safe for children and adolescents.
Related article: TMS and benzodiazepines for depression
Transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy seems to have fewer side effects than antidepressant use, and it is generally well-tolerated in adolescents with few adverse effects. Overall, the risks involved appear very similar to those experienced by adults. Further research and more extensive clinical trials are needed to understand its effects on the developing brain.
TMS works alongside school and college schedules. As it is a non-invasive treatment, schoolwork is not disrupted by TMS, and teenagers can resume everyday activities immediately after a treatment session.
Read more: Depression Counseling
While TMS is FDA approved for adults and many studies show the efficacy and safety of the therapy, there is little understanding on how it impacts the developing brain of children and adolescents. For this reason, it is important to be aware that there are unknowns due to gaps in evidential knowledge regarding TMS for young people who experience depression.
The developing brain is different from the fully formed brain, and it is not yet known how TMS treatment could affect it in the long run. A lack of research makes TMS treatment difficult to advise for helping adolescents with depression as there could be risks involved that medical professionals are currently unaware of.
Read more: Pros and Cons of TMS Therapy
Because it is not FDA approved, TMS is a relatively expensive form of treating teen depression as it is not covered by health insurance. The entire treatment can cost between $6,000 and $15,000, which is simply unaffordable for many families.
TMS therapy is not a safe or suitable treatment for many people. As TMS therapy uses magnetic fields, those with metal in their bodies should not receive the treatment.
For example, TMS should not be offered if a client has:
TMS therapy is also not recommended for those who have a history of seizures due to the electrical currents it induces in the brain.
Medical advice and guidance should be sought upon considering whether TMS is beneficial.
Related: Can TMS be used for teen depression?
While TMS therapy is a safe and effective treatment for adults with depression symptoms, larger clinical trials are needed to assess the safety and efficacy of adolescents and children with major depression.
Although it appears to be a positive form of treatment when antidepressants or talk therapy has not worked for those with treatment-resistant depression, additional research is required before TMS can be approved for teens.
In the future, TMS therapy could be a prominent form of treatment as it is entirely non-invasive, making it a suitable option if first-line treatments have not worked. To find out more about TMS therapy, contact us today. We are on hand to answer any questions and offer our support and guidance.
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