Augusta, GA -
Depression can be crippling... preventing some from getting out of bed, going to work, even simply connecting with people.
It's something on the minds of people across the country today, the day after we lost beloved actor and comedian Robin Williams to suicide.
Traditional treatments, like drugs, therapy, or a combination of the two, don't work for everyone.
Psychiatrists at GRU are studying brain stimulation and depression.
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) can be a good choice for folks who don't tolerate drugs, pregnant women- who can't take drugs, seniors, and people with Parkinson's symptoms. You've heard it called "shock therapy" - but it's not the "last resort" treatment that pop culture might have you believe.
Rather, it is an option that is the best choice for some patients because it gives them a "boost" that meds can't.
And it's the convulsion part --which could hurt a patient-- that has clouded public perception of ECT for decades.
"I think the reason it's stuck around through all of the bad press over the years is because it's so effective."
66-year old "Keith" is one patient who sees how effective it is. He's been treated for depression since he was 5 years old.
"And I've tried every cocktail of drugs that you could possibly take, some of them worked for a while and some of them didn't work at all."
He is bi-polar, has PTSD, and suffers from Parkinsonian Syndrome. Keith says with all he's got going on, electroconvulsive therapy is the only treatment that really breaks through.
"It gives me the ability to handle all these symptoms I have and it takes them away for a while. I had terrible tics, ECT took the tics away; I had terrible depression, ECT seems to be treating the depression. I may have to get a 'refresher,' but in the meantime my quality of life increases greatly. It's something I would never have considered ten years ago, but today it works very well for me."
The only drawback, he says, is the short-term memory loss-- which Dr. Rosenquist says is temporary.
"Usually for the time you're getting the treatment, a little before, a little after- can be more significant for some individuals, but one thing we do know is that we can adjust the manner of treatment and part of that is knowing where to stimulate, part is knowing how and how much to stimulate... then most of the safety issues can be addressed."
Dr. Rosenquist directs the Therapeutic Neurostimulation Program at GRU.
He explains that transcranial brain stimulation works for other patients who suffer depression. It's not electrical, but magnetic stimulation.
It's been life-changing for Dena, who is manic-depressive/bipolar.
"I've fought this for years; I felt like I was in a hole, not making any progress at all - but since this, it's like day and night."
She was so crippled by social phobia that she couldn't work, go to the store, or even to the mailbox... and her meds didn't help.
She used to think, "If this is as good as it's gonna get, don't waste my time," because she didn't get relief for the drugs doctors had prescribed over the last 10 years.
Dr. Rosenquist, on the other hand, believes technology can help some patients in ways that traditional treatments cannot.
"And sometimes that biological piece is so important you have to do that first. because the other stuff is really hard to do without a biological priority."
And that's where magnetic therapy comes in. It's loud, but it doesn't hurt. The results are not as immediate as with ECT.
"I think it's fair to say that this is like the crockpot where the ECT is really the microwave in terms of how quickly you can achieve some benefit. We're looking for something that gives a little bit of energy- not enough to cause a seizure- cause if we did continue with magnetic energy the same way we do electrical energy in an ECT stimulus, we would have a seizure."
"Almost everyday I left here I would feel so energetic- I would go home and cut my grass!" Dena said.
The patient typically undergoes daily treatment for 6-weeks, then 3 weeks of taper.
"I think there's a lot of work in brain stimulation, not just in these technologies, but in other areas where people are trying to find other ways to influence emotional processing."
The TBS magnetic stimulation is also used at Trinity and Aiken Regional hospitals.
GRU is one of seven sites conducting a federally-funded study looking at how effectively ECT keeps depressed seniors in remission.