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Magnets Cured My Depression

By Molly Shea | Oct 27, 2016

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Magnets cured depression
Michele Pagano has been undergoing transcranial magnetic stimulation treatment to treat her depression for the past four months.

In August, Michele Pagano laughed for the first time in months.

“I was watching a movie, and I just blurted out a laugh,” she says.

That small chuckle was a big deal for Pagano, a 35-year-old property manager who lives in Greenwich, Conn., who couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt happy.

“I covered my mouth and started crying because I was so overwhelmed that I actually had that emotion again,” says Pagano, who has suffered from major depressive disorder (aka clinical depression) for the past 20 years. For her, it was a sign that transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS — a little-known psychiatric treatment she’d turned to after exhausting every other option — was working.

TMS — which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2008 and has been gaining popularity since — works by stimulating the part of your brain that controls joy. “When that’s inactive, it causes depression,” Dr. Tarique Perera, who treats patients with TMS at his Greenwich, Conn.-based office, tells The Post.

“With medication, only 30 percent of patients get better (on the first try), and about 50 to 60 percent of patients don’t get well,” Perera says. “TMS can get around 50 percent of patients well if medication has failed them, and for people who combine medication and TMS, it’s more like 75 percent.”

Patients receive the treatment via a magnetic coil placed on the head, which causes brain cells to fire in a series of pulses that lasts a half-hour. For patients, it feels like small taps on the head, and can lead to temporary headaches immediately after the treatment.

“The way I describe it is kind of like a woodpecker trying to get into the side of a vinyl house,” Pagano explains. “It can be painful, and there are headaches. But I suffer from migraines, and it hasn’t worsened them.”

Patients typically require four to six weeks of five sessions per week, but Pagano has received treatment for four months and still sees improvements. She’ll continue to receive TMS for as long as it’s effective. Many patients will need to come back for booster sessions after a period of time. Perera says that typically occurs six months after treatment.

Insurance can cover treatment if you’ve tried medication and haven’t had success. Without insurance, the treatments run an average of $400 per session.

For Pagano, who’s tried myriad treatments for her long-lasting depression, TMS helps her feel like her brain cells are firing again after years of laying dormant.

The TMS is reactivating my brain in the best way possible — I really feel like I’m a stronger, more confident, higher self-esteemed woman than I was a year ago. I have my good days and my bad days just as a ‘normal’ person would have, but I am very happy to say that there are definitely more good days than bad ones.

Still, some worry that the treatment isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It’s hard to test against a placebo, the traditional method of testing a psychiatric treatment, which makes some wary. But Pagano says she’s seen enough to believe in TMS.

“I’ve been able to reprogram myself in less than six months [after] living in depression, anxiety and sadness for over 20 years,” Pagano says. “I owe [it] more than I could ever repay.”

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