Magnetic Stimulation May Improve Depression Symptoms, Study Says

Researchers are testing a new device to treat the condition quickly and without side effects.

Major depressive disorder is among the most common mental health issues in the U.S., according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Now, researchers at Harvard Medical School and McLean Hospital are teaming up to develop a new treatment for this condition.

In a study published in the August 1 issue of Biological Psychiatry, researchers evaluated the effectiveness of low-field magnetic stimulation (LFMS) in treating individuals with depression or bipolar disorder. The study showed that participants who received LFMS reported immediate and substantial mood improvement.

Unlike existing brain stimulation therapies or medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), LFMS treats depression quickly and without unpleasant side effects. According to an HMS report:

Using a portable tabletop LFMS device, the researchers conducted the study with 63 volunteers between the ages of 18 and 65. All participants had been diagnosed with either major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder and had been on a stable regimen of antidepressants or mood-stabilizing medications for at least six weeks.

Each participant rated their mood before and after the single 20-minute treatment of LFMS using two common self-assessment tools. The participants who actively received the LFMS treatment indicated a marked improvement in their mood, while those who did not receive LFMS reported no change in mood.

Michael Rohan, the study’s author and a physicist at McLean Hospital’s Brain Imaging Center, designed the LFMS device used in the study. He said in the report that researchers noted a positive and immediate change in participants’ moods after treatment was administered.

“Although larger research studies are needed, we think LFMS could be a powerful tool as a rapidly acting treatment for depression either alone or in combination with medication,” Rohan said.