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Mental health and wellbeing

TMS therapy: 'The cloud hanging over me was gone'

TMS therapy: 'The cloud hanging over me was gone'

At 25, Sierra Johnson feels good about working a full-time job, setting goals for herself, and looking forward to the future.

However, this wasn't always the case.

Just a few months ago, Sierra wouldn't leave her bedroom, let alone her house. She loved working with children but couldn't keep her job at a day care center.

Since she was a young teenager, Sierra's anxiety and depression symptoms interfered with school, work, relationships, and life in general. So much so, she shut out the world and hid behind room-darkening curtains in her bedroom.

"I was going down this path from fifth grade until now that I was just never happy," Sierra said. "I gave up on everything. I became angry and paranoid, and did not get along with my family."

"I blamed everyone else," she said. "I was stuck."

TMS therapy – a game changer

Sierra heard about a treatment called transcranial magnetic stimulation, better known as TMS.

TMS is an outpatient therapy that uses a device to give very short pulses of magnetic energy to stimulate nerve cells in certain parts of the brain, explained Dr. Lindsay Campbell, WellSpan psychiatrist and behavioral health site director.

The magnetic device stimulates the underactive parts of the brain in patients diagnosed with depression.

"It's quite effective for those patients experiencing major depressive disorder and anxious depression," Dr. Campbell said.

Once patients are referred for TMS, Tanya Seprinski, WellSpan TMS coordinator, works to arrange their treatment plan and sessions. She also works with insurance companies to get patients approved for the program.

The therapy is quick, with sessions lasting just 18 to 20 minutes. It's also safe, with minimal side effects, and patients can drive afterward. Typically, after a few weeks, patients notice a difference, Seprinski explained.

More than 500 patients have turned to WellSpan for TMS therapy. The program, which is available in York and Mt. Gretna, has the lowest drop-out rate in the country.

"Our program has changed in that we have implemented several new devices and protocols which translate into less time in the TMS chair for patients and improved accuracy," Dr. Campbell said. 

A new outlook on life

For Sierra, once she committed to TMS, there was no turning back. She completed all her treatments over a few months.

At first, the changes in Sierra were subtle.

"After treatment 10, my attitude had really changed," she said. "And that brought on other, larger changes. I was able to get out of bed and leave my room. I had more energy."

Sierra started noticing physical and emotional changes in herself. Next, family relationships began to heal, and she was back to taking her medication daily without skipping.

"I was so happy, I cried," she said. "The cloud hanging over me was gone and I could face the day with positivity."

Since completing TMS, Sierra is back to working full-time at her day care job and has the confidence to shop alone and mingle at large events, no longer feeling the need to hide in her bedroom.

She is sharing her story on social media and has been interviewed by reporters from local TV stations - all with the goal of promoting hope for others with depression and anxiety.

"I will always have a diagnosis of anxiety and depression, but now I am able to deal with it," she said.

Results of TMS therapy

Studies have shown TMS can improve depression symptoms in up to 83% of patients undergoing treatment, and 62% of them achieve symptoms of relief or remission from their depression.

In addition to depression, the FDA has also approved TMS for obsessive-compulsive disorder, migraines, and smoking cessation, although these are separate protocols than the ones used for depression.

To learn more about TMS therapy, visit WellSpan Philhaven, here.