Don’t let your mental health take a back seat during the pandemic. If you’re suffering from depression with little relief from therapy or medications, brain stimulation could help improve your quality of life. Get the facts about 2 innovative brain stimulation therapies: transcranial magnetic stimulation and electroconvulsive therapy.

Your Health | 5 months ago

Your Guide to Debunking 7 Myths About Brain Stimulation for Depression

Don’t let your mental health take a back seat during the pandemic. If you’re suffering from depression with little relief from therapy or medications, brain stimulation could help improve your quality of life. Get the facts about 2 innovative brain stimulation therapies: transcranial magnetic stimulation and electroconvulsive therapy. And learn how experts with Atrium Health Behavioral Health Interventional and Neurocognitive Psychiatry are specially trained to give you the treatment and support you need.

As the pandemic continues, you may be trying to cope with increased stress, anxiety or depression. Ongoing isolation from family and friends can contribute to negative feelings and mood disorders. That’s why it’s more important than ever to make your mental health a priority.

To support your mental health, it’s vital to know how and where to get the right treatment, including innovative therapies. Brain stimulation – treatments focused on changing abnormal patterns of activity in the brain – can be highly effective in helping patients battling treatment-resistant depression or other mood disorders.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a type of brain stimulation therapy, delivers a short, magnetic pulse to stimulate regions of the brain that can affect mood. Consider how one patient has benefited from this treatment:

For years, 70-year-old Virginia of Charlotte tried several medications and therapies to relieve her depression. Still, she struggled to find the motivation to spend time with her beloved family. Plus, she was concerned about her loved ones seeing her in poor health. “My children and grandchildren are my world,” she said. “When I was sick and couldn’t be around them, it was even more depressing for me.”

Three years ago, she decided to start TMS therapy at Atrium Health and turned the corner in her treatment. “I’m in a much better place now, and I’m not suicidal,” she explained. “I’m able to function without staying in bed all day long. It’s given me a quality of life that I didn’t have for a long time.”

Expanded brain stimulation services

TMS is available at Atrium Health Behavioral Health Interventional and Neurocognitive Psychiatry, a new practice that offers expanded brain stimulation services. It’s located at 330 Billingsley Road, Suite 102, Charlotte, NC 28211. This practice allows us to:

  • Coordinate brain stimulation services from a centralized location – outside the psychiatric hospital.
  • Provide access to a second TMS device that delivers rapid treatment (using Theta Burst Technology), reducing treatment time from 19 minutes to 3 minutes.
  • Expand care by adding a new doctor who offers neurocognitive psychiatry appointments.
  • Continue offering access to electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).
  • Improve health, elevate hope and advance healing for all behavioral health patients.

We provide ECT at Atrium Health Huntersville and Atrium Health Mercy.

Brain stimulation myths vs. facts

If you’re suffering from depression with little relief from talk therapy (also known as psychotherapy) or medication, you owe it to yourself to see if brain stimulation could improve your quality of life. Sadly, there’s a lot of misinformation out there about this form of treatment.

Thanks to medical insights provided by Nicole Aho, MD, interventional psychiatrist with Atrium Health Behavioral Health Services, our myth-versus-fact comparison addresses common concerns to help put your mind at ease.

Myth: Brain stimulation isn’t safe.

Fact: There’s no clinical evidence that brain stimulation treatment causes brain damage.

We have a long history of providing brain stimulation services to thousands of patients safely and effectively. In fact, we started offering ECT in 1992 and TMS in 2012. To ensure your safety, our team has taken specialized certification courses in ECT and TMS.

While a technician administers TMS therapy, we have a doctor readily available in-house during treatment. The doctor is accessible to patients and ready to answer questions, make coil readjustments or handle medical emergencies. Many medical centers only require a doctor to be “readily available” but may not require them to be on-site at the facility.

Myth: ECT is dangerous shock therapy.

Fact: Performed under general anesthesia, ECT delivers brief, controlled electrical currents to the brain through the scalp. It creates mild, controlled seizures that have been shown to improve mood symptoms in patients with severe depression and other mood disorders.

Myth: Brain stimulation services are designed to replace talk therapy and medications.

Fact: Our services are adjunctive. None of these treatments are considered cures or are designed to take the place of medications or talk therapy. In fact, we strongly encourage patients to continue taking their medications as directed.

At Atrium Health, we take the time to discuss all possible treatment options and work with you to determine the best brain stimulation service to meet your needs.

Myth: Brain stimulation will erase my memory or cause brain damage.

Fact: There’s no clinical evidence that shows that ECT causes brain damage or dementia. Any short-term forgetfulness that occurs after ECT is usually temporary.

Myth: I’ve tried everything to treat my depression. I don’t think brain stimulation will help.

Fact: Brain stimulation has successfully helped many patients battling treatment-resistant depression. In fact, ECT has a 50-80% response rate in patients with treatment-resistant depression. TMS has a 50-60% response rate for severe depression.

Myth: Brain stimulation causes too many scary side effects.

Fact: With ECT, the most common side effect is short-term forgetfulness, mostly around the time of treatment. According to a study published in Biological Psychiatry, the results from cognitive testing performed before and after ECT revealed that all cognitive variables analyzed basically returned to normal 15 days after treatment.

Other common side effects of ECT, which are caused by the anesthesia, include nausea, headache, stomachache and muscle aches. These can usually be managed during the treatment session. Since anesthesia is involved, ECT patients must have transportation support for their appointments. In addition, patients may need pain medication during ECT to minimize discomfort.  

For most patients, TMS causes no side effects. In rare cases, patients may get headaches or migraines. Seizure rates for TMS are less than 0.10%.

Myth: Brain stimulation services are too expensive for me to try. 

Fact: Brain stimulation services are covered by most health insurance plans. Because TMS is a much newer treatment than ECT, insurance companies monitor its use much more closely. Our experts know the right combination of therapy and medication to recommend to patients before trying TMS (to help ensure insurance coverage). Additionally, our new 3-minute Theta Burst treatments are providing affordable self-pay options. Unfortunately, TMS is not currently covered by Medicaid.

Leading-edge technology, research

In addition to standard brain stimulation services, our practice provides several off-label treatments for anxiety. Sometimes, our team uses modern protocols to treat severe depression and other issues. For example, we may soon be using TMS to help patients quit smoking.


Learn more

If you’d like to learn more about our brain stimulation treatment options, please visit Interventional and Neurocognitive Psychiatry at Atrium Health or call us at 704-512-7578.

In light of the pandemic, we are providing all consultations virtually.