HAMPTON ROADS, Va. -- Millions of people suffer from depression but struggle to find relief from medications or talk therapy.
One Hampton Roads teacher was one of these people. Then, she found hope in a treatment that not many have heard of.
"I've been dealing with depression my entire life," Alice Stephenson said.
Stephenson knows the heartache of depression, dealing with symptoms since she was a teenager.
"When I got to be in my early 20s, it really came home and I was suicidal and that's when I started to take my mental health seriously," Stephenson said.
While talk therapy and medications have helped over the years, she said she still struggled, even with the support of a loving husband and family.
"There was this cloud of depression that wasn't going away," Stephenson said. "Not only was I tired of trying different medications, but I was at that place where I was starting to get all the side effects of all the different medications."
Her doctor recommended TMS therapy, a procedure that helps people with treatment-resistant depression.
"Almost 10% of the U.S. population, approaching 30 million people, suffer from depression and medications for the last 50 years are helpful maybe 30% of the time. So we have a massive population of people who suffer from major depressive disorder in the United States who are getting, at best, maybe partial benefits from medication treatment," Dr. William Sauve, a physician with Greenbrook TMS Neurohealth Centers.
Dr. Sauve said TMS uses magnetic pulses to stimulate areas in the brain involved in mood regulation.
"You're looking for the motor cortex and aiming the coil right about there. If we were letting you have one pulse at a time, it would feel like one little plunk on your head," Dr. Sauve said.
He describes the procedure as being non-invasive and painless.
"There is no need for recovery after. There's no change in anyone's level of consciousness, nobody feels anything in particular except for a tapping sensation against the head and that's because the electromagnetic field stimulates the scalp," Dr. Sauve said.
The treatment only lasts 20 minutes at a time but must be performed five days a week over a six-week period. For many patients, results can be felt within the first two to three weeks.
"The big pivotal moment for me, the moment I'll always remember, was washing my hands in the bathroom and looking in the mirror," Stephenson said.
For the first time in years, she said she liked seeing her reflection.
"We were at the dinner table and I said to my mom, mom, I have a question for you and I want you to be honest with me, and I said, is this what I look like? And I just started to cry and I said mom, I like the way I look and then my mom just started bawling and I think it was at that moment my mom finally understood what TMS was giving me," Stephenson said.
Studies show that results of TMS therapy can last one to three years.
However, it's given this high school teacher the lifelong gift of finally feeling in control of her mental health.
"It's a whole paradigm shift in the way you see the world and to see it from a perspective with energy and life and color and vibrancy, I just never thought that existed for me- but it does exist and it is real and it’s tangible and it can be available for other people.”
This segment is sponsored by WHOA Behavioral Health.