At age 65, Helen Stallings is no stranger to depression. A survivor of domestic abuse and addiction, she has struggled with depression for more than half of her life.
“I've been on so many SSRIs (a class of antidepressant drugs that increase serotonin levels in the brain) — nearly all of them. I used to think of them as wonder drugs."
Over the years, Helen had some success treating her depression with medicine, but she also experienced drawbacks.
“As the dosages increased, my blood pressure kept rising, so my PCP had to increase my blood pressure medication," she says.
“It became exhausting. I had no energy. I felt like a zombie. I can't say that using medicine for my depression was useless. But over the past few years, I kept thinking that there had to be a better way."
Helen has always enjoyed doing her own research to better understand her condition. She wants to learn about the medications, lifestyle choices, and treatments that could help her beat her depression.
That's how Helen found out that UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital offers transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). TMS is an outpatient treatment for people with hard-to-treat depression.
Doctors perform TMS while you're awake and seated.
A machine sends magnetic pulses into the brain, causing the brain to create brief electrical currents. This can cause changes in the way the brain cells (neurons) interact in the specific parts of the brain that control mood.
Helen, who had become resistant to antidepressants, saw TMS as a viable option.
After talking with her doctor, Helen decided to give TMS a try. She underwent five sessions a week over a six-week period.
“It's been a godsend. I feel a clarity of mind. For so long, I felt locked up — like I was in an igloo — and now it's starting to melt," says Helen.
“I feel more relaxed, energetic, and able to feel my emotions. What I'm experiencing now are true emotions — true laughter, sadness, even anger. And I can think more clearly and sort things out."
Since her TMS treatments, Helen has increased her daily activities. She exercises, swims, goes to the gym, and actively plans her weeks.
“I've been on so many medications that failed or just didn't work for me. TMS has given me a new lease on life."
Today, Helen is confident that the worst of her depression is behind her.
“You gotta keep the hope alive!" she says.
For more information or to schedule an appointment with the Center for Interventional Psychiatry, please call 412-246-5063.