New Hope for People With Depression
Available in Colorado Springs
By Bonnie L. Simon
Joseph Hammock, PhD, Clinical Director;
Melissa Hammock, LMFT, Services Director; and John Fleming, MD, Medical Director
For Women’s Edition Colorado Springs
Originally posted at WomensEdition.com, reposted with permission.
“We want all patients with depression to realize that there is hope for treatment,” says John Fleming, MD, co-owner of Southern Colorado TMS Center, LLC. “While we realize part of the illness destroys hope, in reality, there is a lot of hope for the treatment of depression.”
Dr. Fleming and co-owners Melissa Hammock, LMFT, and Joseph Hammock, PhD, use a novel treatment to bring hope to patients in Colorado Springs. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) applies MRI-strength magnetic energy in a concentrated field (about the size of a quarter) to the part of the brain that scientists believe to be insufficiently active in people with depression. During the six weeks of treatment, the magnetic field makes the targeted neurons increase their activity; as activity increases, the depression lifts. Dr. Fleming refers to this effect as triggering the “normal activation of circuits in the brain.”
Imagine that this part of the brain is a muscle that can be activated by thinking happy thoughts. For a person with major depression, doing enough positive thinking to make a difference is very difficult. The TMS machine will stimulate the same area of the brain, and the machine does it about 90,000 times over six weeks. It “strengthens” the area of the brain responsible for managing mood and makes it possible for the brain to rewire itself so that all the mood-controlling parts are more active on their own.
Most patients remain stable even a year after treatment, and many are able to taper off their medications after TMS. “The commitment of time was the biggest thing,” says Lauren, a patient for whom TMS has relieved lifelong depression. “But when you weigh the alternative, it’s nothing.”
Dr. Fleming tells stories that illustrate the effectiveness of this FDA-approved treatment. One patient, a young woman with serious depression, was pregnant when she came in with a request to stop taking medication for fear of its effects on her developing baby. TMS put her depression into remission by the time the baby was born, leaving her ready to bond with her baby and with the energy to connect with her husband and other child.
Another patient, a woman in her 50s, had spent 30 years looking for a solution to her depression. She had been depressed since her 20s and had tried many medications. With TMS, she was able to taper off most medications and felt better than she had in years.
Since this technique is relatively new, few people have heard of it, and the machine can seem a bit intimidating. Patients considering the treatment are invited to speak with a current patient and even to sit with a patient while she is undergoing treatment. “It’s kind of strange,” acknowledges Lauren. “It sounds like an MRI, and you feel a pointed tingle.” The clinic has used several generations of machines, and the newest one is the most comfortable.
Like most medical treatments, it has a few side effects, though not as many as medications generally do. There is no weight gain or sexual dysfunction. Some patients experience a bit of a headache or feel sleepy. The treatment is not appropriate for people with metal in their heads because the magnets would make the metal move. Studies have also found a seizure risk of 1 in 30,000, making it important for doctors to take extra care when treating patients with seizure disorders.
All three partners play a role in the treatment of patients. Dr. Fleming, an MD psychiatrist, met Dr. Hammock, a PhD clinical psychiatrist, and Melissa, a licensed marriage and family therapist, in the years after TMS was approved by the FDA. All three were interested in the treatment, and they opened Southern Colorado TMS Center, LLC in October 2011. Dr. Fleming is the medical director. He evaluates patients and makes decisions about treatment. Dr. Hammock works with each patient and supervises the machines as the clinical director. Melissa is the services director. She supervises the group therapy included in the TMS treatment. Group therapy helps recipients adjust the way they interact with others and live their lives as their moods improve.
“When you’re in deep depression, you don’t have the energy to want to do something to help yourself,” comments Lauren. “Your way of thinking is skewed. If you can just take that step, it’s worth a try. When it works, it’s amazing!”
Patients can learn more about TMS on the clinic’s website, www.southerncoloradotms.com, or by calling 719-359-8812. Southern Colorado TMS Center, LLC is located at 3225 International Circle, in Colorado Springs. They encourage patients, as well as friends and family, to call with their questions. For a significant number of patients, TMS makes a world of difference in their day-to-day lives.