TMS: The Future of Treating Depression?


While there are many treatments for depression, most of practices may seem conventional—perhaps outdated. A significant number of people who struggle with depression may not respond to treatment and often find themselves doctor-hopping or switching medications. It leads to other adverse outcomes and could perpetuate other disorders such as addiction, anxiety, stress, or negative thoughts and behavior. According to Harvard Health Medical Publishing, recent research has discovered more about the brain and its neural pathways and how this varies among patients. This research suggests; treating depression involves a more explorative and complex approach outside of medication and other various forms of treatment. 

Transcranial magnetic stimulation, or simply TMS, has garnered attention of many health clinicians. TMS therapy is a practice founded in science and shown to have lasting and positive effects on patients with depression, anxiety, stress and OCD. The technique is a refined approach to treating specific brain areas, which is why patients can experience lasting results without needing additional medication or treatment. While TMS is still in its infancy, it is a practice that will continue to evolve. The future of TMS could be the future for treating depression.

How does TMS work?

TMS therapy is non-invasive brain stimulation. The procedure does not require any surgery or implantation of electrodes. Instead, the mechanism is in an insulated coil that is placed over the scalp. It is placed in relation to the area of the brain responsible for mood regulation. The coil produces magnetic pulses in that area of the brain. When many hear magnetic or electromagnetic pulses entering the brain, they might fear that such a process could be damaging and painful. However, this procedure is relatively painless. In fact, the magnetic waves’ strength is often compared to the power and type administered during an MRI.

When pulses are administered in rapid succession, repetitive TMS helps produce longer-lasting brain activity changes. By influencing the center of your brain responsible for mood, TMS is stimulating areas of the brain that are commonly less active in patients suffering from depression. Therefore, once these areas become active, the brain is better equipped to regulate moods and your depression, leading to overall well-being in both mind and body. More recently, John Hopkins University has introduced what is referred to as the H-coil, a TMS tool that can direct stimulation in deeper and larger volumes.

Is TMS Safe?

Overall, TMS is a safe and well-tolerated procedure. Because of its accuracy, clinicians can target one specific area without disrupting or disturbing other brain areas. However, it can cause some side effects that are often mild discomfort that goes away shortly after the procedure. These include headache, scalp discomfort, mild tingling or spasms in facial muscles, and lightheadedness. The clinician may adjust the level of stimulation if the patient experiences such side effects frequently. Taking over-the-counter pain medication before the procedure could also help avoid any side effects.

Uncommon side effects, while rare, are important to note. These include seizures, mania and hearing loss. Right now, studies cannot indicate if any of these side-effects are long- or short-term. However, because patients with another disorder such as bipolar could be more at risk of experiencing the uncommon side effects. If you are considering seeking TMS treatment for your depression, take the steps necessary to research your health to understand what disorders you might have other than depression, or if you have a history of seizures. It has been found that alcohol and drugs harm the brain and could potentially trigger disorders in the brain, so always be honest with your doctor about substance or alcohol abuse before undergoing the TMS procedure. Also, if you have any metal implants, shrapnel, or facial tattoos containing sensitive metallic ink, you will not qualify for treatment.

Who can receive TMS treatment? 

TMS is a treatment for those over 18 years of age—though this could change and become available for adolescents, pending approval from the FDA. Right now, patients over 18 who have severe depressive disorder and have not seen relief from anti-depressants can be considered candidates.

You will typically have a consultation with a TMS specialist to determine if you qualify for the treatment. Your brain will be evaluated or mapped to determine the amount of dosage you need. Once treatment begins, your progress will be monitored by a TMS staff member. They will meet with you as necessary to evaluate clinical issues and the effectiveness of the therapy. After this, sessions typically continue for four to six weeks, or 20-30 sessions. While TMS will not change your personality, it can eventually help your mood—and when your mood brings relief to your depressive state, your behavior should improve and any effects it may have on your personality would be positive.

What’s the future of TMS therapy?

Many who receive treatment champion the treatment, expressing how much better their mood and overall approach to life has become. Additionally, while only a small sample size is currently available, with more research, TMS could link to treating other disorders and diseases of the brain. This could include schizophrenia, bipolar depression and neurodegenerative diseases.

As TMS evolves, it could be commonplace among other effective treatments, and even combat addiction disorders that often lead to other serious brain disorders. However, more research is needed to understand why magnetic brain stimulation affects the neurological system on a molecular level. Fortunately, since this is a non-invasive therapy with less detrimental side-effects than even some medications, the future of TMS and treating multiple brain disorders looks promising.


Mental health disorders and diseases of the brain affect millions around the world. Don’t wait to get treatment. DiscoveryMD is founded on making behavioral healthcare accessible to all. Our mission is to help create a new narrative where acceptance for behavioral healthcare are no longer neglected, but commonplace in our culture. Everybody deserves to have a rewarding life. To learn more, contact us.

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