As depression cases soar during COVID, some psychiatrists tout powerful, yet less accepted therapy

Experts: Transcranial magnetic stimulation works
tms rebound.jpg
Posted at 11:43 AM, May 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-15 13:46:11-04

LAKEWOOD, Colo. — Inside Pinnacle Interventional Psychiatry in Lakewood, the patients they treat have experienced some extreme lows.

“I hit rock bottom a couple years ago,” said Michelle, a patient. “I was on the edge of suicide.”

Michelle was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and anxiety.

“I was always stuck,” she said. “I just had the blues, the blahs, I couldn’t get out of bed. I couldn’t be positive, I couldn’t be motivated. Zoloft, Wellbutrin, you name it, I’ve been on it.”

The staff at Pinnacle knows for many patients, this is their last hope.

“People come and they are at the end of their rope. They’re sad,” said Brittany Graves, medical assistant and Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), technician at Pinnacle.

“They can’t function, there’s no motivation, there’s no drive,” said Liz Orman, office manager and medical assistant at Pinnacle. “They come here and they’re like, ‘I’m out of options. I don’t know what else to do.’”

That’s where Dr. Narin Wongngamnit and his team come in.

“For the treatment of, primarily, depression,” Wongngamnit said. “But we do some other mental health disorders as well.”

Unlike traditional therapies and pharmaceuticals, Wongngamnit says TMS uses a different technique.

“We chose TMS because it’s technology that’s been proven,” Wongngamnit said.

TMS is magnetic therapy used to create new neuropathways in the brain.

“We’re talking about using magnetic fields to create electrical stimulation,” Wongngamnit said.

At Pinnacle, they use the Neurostar system.

“This, right here, is the magnetic coil that is placed on the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex,” Orman said. “This is the area associated with mood disturbances, as well as depression.”

The staff at Pinnacle is aware of the stigma and misconceptions surrounding this kind of treatment.

“You hear magnets, you hear brain, you hear electricity, you get scared,” Wongngamnit said.

But Dr. W, as he’s known to patients, says TMS is proven treatment. Some studies show a 60% success rate and nearly one-third of all patients enter remission just weeks after undergoing treatment.

“To people who have interacted with interventional psychiatry, to people who have a working knowledge of what we do and how we do it and of the outcomes, it’s a very respected community,” Wongngamnit said.

“Within two weeks, I would say, a light switch kind of goes off,” Orman said.

“We see a quick turn in events,” Graves said.

“It comes to a point where it’s statistically unlikely that you’re going to get better from medications or therapy alone if you’ve tried three or four medications,” Wongngamnit said.

He also says it’s a timely topic, given that cases of depression and other mental health disorders have skyrocketed since the pandemic began.

“College students have doubled their rate of depression over COVID,” Wongngamnit said.

According to a CDC survey in June 2020, 41% of U.S. adults reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition during COVID-19, including symptoms of anxiety, depression and pandemic-related stress.

“COVID is surrounded by isolation, which increases depression,” Graves said.

TMS is certainly out of the shadows at this point. It’s covered by nearly all major medical insurance companies and the Denver metro VA hospital.

“It means a lot that our local VA also has a TMS program,” Wongngamnit said.

For Michelle, it works.

“It’s not some gimmick,” she said. “It’s life-changing. I hit remission a week before I finished. Afterwards, my daughter said, ‘You were happy.’”