TMS: An Alternative to Treating Depression with Medication

Depression affects millions of people every year, turning everyday tasks and issues into overwhelming monsters that take hold of people. It can be the result of surgeries, money problems, relationship struggles, and other traumatic events, but there are ways you can fight back.

Through medication and psychotherapy, or talking therapy, most diagnosed depression cases can be controlled. Sometimes, these aids aren’t enough and sometimes people have other reason for not wanting to take medications, so alternative methods of controlling depression had to be developed.

The is where Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) comes in. This alternative form of depression control has been helping those people who can’t take medication, or who find medication doesn’t work for them, find relief from the symptoms of depression.

What is TMS?

TMS therapy is a brain stimulation method that uses focused magnetic pulses to help depressed brainwaves react as they should. While treating depression with TMS, the goal is the stimulation of the nerve cells in the area of the brain the is believed to control mood.

This non-invasive technique is FDA approved for treating the symptoms of depression if they have no reacted to prior antidepressant treatment, and those who have difficulty with the side effects of medication based treatments.

How Does It Work?

The process takes a few set up meetings before your treatments can begin. This a delicate process involving your brain, so careful measurements are taken to locate the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.

Additional measurements are taken to determine the proper magnetic strength to use for each patient. When the brain is stimulated by magnetic pulse, the thumb on the opposite side of the stimulant will twitch. This is the strength used in your treatments.

Your psychiatrist uses a large MRI style magnet to send magnetic pulses to your left dorsolateral cortex. Like an electric generator, the magnet can manipulate and produce electrical currents in the brain. Since patients with depression have decreased activity in the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the ultimate goal is to restore activity to those regions.

Treatments last anywhere from 15 minutes to a half-hour, and they normally are done 5 days a week for 4-6 weeks.

Is it Safe?

Yes. The numbers don’t lie, and the FDA gave it the green light for use in fighting depression. The process is non-systemic, meaning it doesn’t float around in your bloodstream like normal anti depression medications. It’s also non-invasive meaning no cuts and scars to deal with either.

Less than 6% of patients stopped their treatment due to a bad experience, and most report that TMS feels like an electronic woodpecker that just pokes your head.

There have been more than 10,000 clinical trials to test the validity and safety of TMS as an alternative depression treatment method.

There also isn’t a list of adverse side affects you can see with normal depression medications either. There are no specific side effects, sexual dysfunction, weight gain, nausea, sedation, dry mouth, no effects on concentration or memory, and no drug interactions either.

You can drive yourself to and from your appointments too!

Who is it for?

Let’s start with who shouldn’t use it:

  • Patients with metallic devices in their head
  • Patients with implants controlled by physiological signals
  • Patients with pacemakers
  • Patients with implanted cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs)
  • Patients with vagus nerve stimulators (VNS)

So, who does benefit from it? These are the people that can benefit from TMS:

  • Patients who have not responded to psychotherapy
  • Patients who have not responded to medications
  • Patients who have difficulty with the side effects of antidepressants medications
  • Patients who don’t want to take their medication for pregnancy or breastfeeding
  • Patients who don’t want to take part in ECT


Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation has been a superstar when it comes to finding effective alternatives to treating depression. The use of magnetic pulses to jumpstart brain activity is a promising and safe alternative to the medication methods. Especially as time goes by, we continue to see higher response rates to TMS treatments when anti depression medication has not worked.

If you have been trying to control your depression with medication but you haven’t found any luck in doing so, it might be time to talk to your psychiatrist about alternative depression treatment methods to see if TMS is an option.

Have you or a loved one been helped by TMS? How has TMS helped you when anti depression medications couldn’t? Share your stories about transcranial magnetic stimulation in the comments below.