Demand for magnetic therapy prompts expansion of the depression treatment in Minnesota

A magnetic therapy called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is experiencing increased demand in the Twin Cities due to its effectiveness in treating persistent depression. Allina Health has expanded its mental health services by opening a new center in Fridley to meet this demand.

While antidepressant medications and talk therapy are still the primary treatment options, alternatives like TMS are necessary for those who aren’t helped by these treatments alone. TMS has been an option in the U.S. for 15 years, but its popularity has grown in the post-pandemic era as more people seek depression treatment and research validates its potential.

TMS involves the use of magnetic coils placed on the scalp for around 30 minutes, which direct pulses into the brain. This stimulates a part of the brain that is underutilized in people with depression, promoting changes similar to those caused by exercise. Studies have shown that about half of patients report some benefit, and a third see remission of depressive symptoms after one to two months of five-day-a-week treatments.

More than 23% of Minnesota adults reported having depression at some point in 2022, an increase from 15% in 2011. TMS is only recommended for a fraction of these patients who have been diagnosed with major depressive disorder. However, this diagnosis is becoming more common.

TMS is distinct from medication as patients don’t necessarily need to continue it once they respond to the treatment. The treatment has roots at the University of Minnesota, where it was used in clinical trials that led to its approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2008.

Coverage for TMS varies by insurance plan and employer. It is a costly treatment, with the roughly $10,000 cost shared between patients and insurers. Research is ongoing to predict which patients respond best to TMS, determine its impact on daily life, and expand its use for adolescents and neurological conditions such as stroke.

TMS has already been approved for smoking and obsessive compulsive disorder, and some researchers believe it can treat tinnitus, a condition that reportedly increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Becky Steffens, a patient from Coon Rapids, initially didn’t believe TMS would work, but she experienced significant improvement after undergoing treatment at the U’s clinic for treatment-resistant depression. Despite the discomfort and time commitment, TMS gave Steffens several months of complete remission and reduced symptoms, allowing her to discover joys in life such as painting and volunteering.

Dr. Bennett Poss, a psychiatrist at Allina’s Abbott Northwestern Hospital, is optimistic about TMS as it gains interest and access expands at Allina’s Mercy Hospital Campus in Fridley. However, he acknowledges that there will be a need for other treatments, including electroconvulsive therapy, which causes patients to go into seizures and “resets” their brains without depressive symptoms.

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