Depression is a psychological illness that can be debilitating for many children, teens, and adults. In fact, it’s an illness that carries such a stigma that many of those who have the disease don’t end up getting treatment for it. It’s estimated that about 10 to 15 percent of teens are depressed at any given time. In fact, research indicates that one of every four adolescents will have an episode of depression during high school, beginning as early as 14 years old. If untreated, periods of depression can last several months and can possibly lead to suicide.
Sadly, there are some in which depressed or anxious teens, who have been appropriately diagnosed and who are receiving treatment, don’t respond to treatment and are not improving. Typically, when medication is used to treat depression, there is a 50% reduction in symptoms within 8 to 12 weeks. Approximately 60% of teens show a significant clinical response by 12 weeks and remission by 24 weeks. However, 40% of teens who receive evidence-based treatment for their depression are considered to be treatment resistant.
Treatment that is considered to be evidence based for depression includes the use of medication such as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, also known as SSRI’s. This form of medication increases the levels of serotonin, which can ease depressive symptoms and they have fewer and milder symptoms than other anti-depressants. In addition to medication is the use of psychotherapy, particularly Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT identifies negative and distorted thinking patterns. This successful form of therapy emphasizes the link between thoughts, feelings, and behavior, and more importantly, it attempts to identify the way that certain thoughts contribute to the unique problems of an adolescent’s life. Interpersonal Therapy used with medication is also seen as evidenced based and has shown a faster rate of response than medication used with CBT. Interpersonal Therapy is a form of therapy that invites teens to regain control of their mood and functioning by exploring in more detail the nature of his or her relationships. IPT is based upon the ideas that regardless of genetics, depression develops within the context of relationships.
However, when a teen does not respond to these evidenced based treatments, depression can become chronic. As treatment continues to be ineffective, this can worsen symptoms and undermine any hope that a teen has. There are some factors that seem to consistently contribute to chronic depression and treatment resistance, such as the severity of the depression, co-occurring disorders, addiction, history of abuse, parental depression, and bullying at school.
However, research is leading to a new treatment form of depression called synchronized transcranial magnetic stimulation, or sTMS, that may have the potential to provide relief. The treatment syncs a patient’s brain by stimulating it with low levels of magnetic energy, 30 minutes a day for several weeks.
“And when that happens, normal moods can start to come back,” said Dr. Leuchter, a psychiatrist at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at University of California, Los Angeles.
According to Dr. Andrew Leuchter, depression is a disorder that can be seen through imaging and brain scans. Braining imaging can clearly show the difference between a normal functioning brain and the brain of someone suffering from depression.
Leuchter recently performed a study of 120 patients who used the sTMS treatment and compared them to a placebo group. His unpublished study of found the treatment significantly decreased depression in some patients. This treatment method is currently being studied, but it hasn’t yet been approved for the public.
For those teens mentioned above, this could be a treatment method that breaks through the resistance they seem to be experiencing that prevents them from finding relief. Another expert on depression, Dr. Matthew Rudorfer, associate director of treatment research for the National Institute of Mental Health, said sTMS “represents an exciting advance for people who don’t want to take medications, can’t take medications, or who do not respond to medications.”
Currently under FDA review, sTMS treatment may one day offer depressed teens a medication-free option, as well as hope and possibly even the happiness they’re looking for.