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New Magnetic Treatment for Depression Raises Eyebrows

A government-funded study is getting attention in the mental health community. The alternative approach to treating depression swaps medicine for magnets.

The FDA adult-approved treatment is formerly called repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS). It involves placing a magnetic device behind the left forehead. The research shows that this device is able to deactivate depression sensors by sending tiny electric currents into a specific portion of the brain.

This trial was conducted on 190 people who hadn’t previously seen positive results from a variety of antidepressants.

Researcher Sarah Lisanby, MD, chief of the brain stimulation and therapeutic modulation division at Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute divided the large group into two trial-treatment groups. Each treatment lasted for three weeks.

One group received magnetic therapy. The second group received an inactive placebo, which were earphones fashioned with electrodes. The dummy device would mimic the repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation by giving off the same sound and feel; it even had a similar visual appeal, too.

Of the group that received the magnetic treatment, 14 percent had successful results and saw remission of their depression. Those who received the placebo treatment had a 5 percent rate of remission.

(The study shows that when dealing with depression, there’s always a high chance a placebo effect will have a positive result on some patients).

“The effect sizes we report with rTMS are about on par with what you see with antidepressant medications,” Lisanby tells WebMD. “The difference is that to get into our study, people had to have failed to have responded to a medication. And studies show that with previous failure to respond to an antidepressant, the rate of success for a second antidepressant is lower.”

All patients in each group were then admitted to magnetic therapy for three more weeks. Thirty percent reported their depression had gone into remission.

The study also shows this alternative treatment does not put the patient at risk of seizures and appears to have no adverse effects.

New Magnetic Treatment for Depression Raises Eyebrows

Rochelle Oliver, Associate News Editor

APA Reference
Associate News Editor, R. (2018). New Magnetic Treatment for Depression Raises Eyebrows. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 18, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.