When recovery from depression or bipolar disorder seems hopeless, are there other options? A patient’s perspective

My experience with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) began in 1995, when I opted for ECT as a last resort for treating my bipolar disorder. For so many people who were termed medication resistant and suffering with depression or bipolar disorder, ECT was the “last stop” when it came to treatment. But the variety of medications and other treatments now available to patients suffering from depression has expanded dramatically over the last 17 years.

I recently became extremely curious about a treatment for depression called TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation). I was surprised to discover that even though TMS is a non-invasive outpatient procedure with few side effects, does not require anesthesia, and was approved by the FDA as far back as 2008, it is still very much “under the radar” and is a treatment which many patients are not very familiar.

According to Kira Stein, M.D., psychiatrist and medical director of Los Angeles-based West Coast TMS Institute, “In a recently published multicenter naturalistic study, 58% of patients significantly responded to TMS treatment, with 37% undergoing complete remission.”

Today, TMS is primarily being used to treat those of us suffering with depression. The statistics for depression are alarming: 1 in 6 people experience it in their lifetime, which means that more than 50 million Americans are likely to struggle with clinical depression. Unfortunately, of this population, only 1 in 4 people get adequate treatment. One of the biggest concerns is the risk of suicide, as more than 36,000 people in the United States take their lives every year. Untreated depression, which causes disability at work and disrupted family and interpersonal relationships, can also lead to self-medication with drugs and alcohol. Depression has reached epidemic proportions and has become a silent killer.

When I speak to audiences about mental illness, I always encourage people who suffer from depression to seek advice from a mental health professional. Sometimes, getting people to overcome the stigma of suffering from depression is one of the hardest jobs I have to do. It is often the patient who resists seeking help, often because of the stigma, who really ends up at risk. But today, there are more treatment options than when I was ill. Technology is giving doctors more tools, and patients much more hope, for recovery.


Andy Behrman is the author of “Electroboy: A Memoir of Mania,” a personal story about his bipolar disorder, his experience electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), and his recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. Behrman advocates for mental health awareness and suicide prevention. He speaks to college audiences, health care professionals, and local and national mental health support groups working to stop stigma surrounding mental illness.

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