In a world first trial, Melbourne doctors have started beaming magnetic fields into the brains of depressed teenagers in the hope it will treat their illness and improve their cognitive function.
Head of Child Psychiatry at Monash Health, Michael Gordon, said his team was recruiting 40 adolescents with severe depression to see if 20 sessions of magnetic stimulation over four weeks would improve their mental health.
While the technique, known as transcranial magnetic stimulation, has been effective for about 35 per cent of adults whose depression does not respond to other treatments, it has only been tested on 19 adolescents across the globe.
The treatment involves placing a figure eight-shaped coil on the patient’s scalp at the front of their head. Over about 25 minutes, it delivers magnetic pulses to the frontal lobe of the brain thought to control depression.
While the patient is given ear plugs to reduce a tapping sound made by the machine, it does not involve needles. The most common side effects are twitching eye brows, a slight headache or ringing in the ears.
Dr Gordon said previous studies had suggested that depression slowed the activity of nerves in the left side of the frontal lobe and that speeding them up with magnetic stimulation alleviated symptoms of the illness.
“If we address the asymmetry (in brain activity between the right and left side of the brain), we think people become less depressed,” he said, adding that magnetic stimulation of the right side of the brain tended to reduce anxiety in adults.
Between 5 and 9 per cent of teenagers are affected by major depression, which often involves more than two weeks of persistent sadness, withdrawal, sleeplessness, difficulty concentrating and low self-esteem. Major depression tends to occur twice as commonly in females than males.
While most teenagers are encouraged to try psychotherapy to help them change unhealthy thinking habits first then proceed to antidepressant medications if that fails, Dr Gordon said up to 40 per cent do not respond to either of these treatments.
Untreated depression in teens often causes great disruption to their lives in a tender developmental stage when they would ordinarily be studying or entering the workforce. Some become suicidal and take their own lives.
For this reason, Dr Gordon is hoping to find a new treatment.
He said although magnetic stimulation may remind people of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), which uses electricity to induce seizures in people, magnetic stimulation very rarely induced a seizure.
“This is nothing like ECT… It is very low burden. The adults I’ve seen drive in, have their half an hour of treatment and drive home themselves,” he said.
The study, which was funded by a charitable donation from Woolworths, is currently open to people aged 13 to 18 who have a current diagnosis of major depressive disorder.
All participants must be actively managed by a clinician outside of the study (private child psychiatrist or public child adolescent mental health clinician) during their participation. They can be on antidepressants and have the magnetic stimulation as long as the dose remains unchanged while they are having treatment. However, they cannot be pregnant nor have a neurological illness such as epilepsy. People will also be excluded if they have metal in their head such as a cochlear implant, a medication pump or any other implanted electronic device.
For more information, visit: http://梧桐夜网monashhealth.org/page/Adolescent_depression or phone 0420 371 052.
For help or information visit beyondblue.org419论坛, call Suicide Helpline Victoria on 1300 651 251, or Lifeline on 131 114.
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