First published on Nine News by Emily Rice, Tuesday 6 June 2017
Teenagers have a reputation for being sulky and irritable. But when occasional moodiness extends into months of persistent melancholy, it can be an early sign a child is suffering depression, according to Monash Health child psychiatrist Michael Gordon.
“Their marks are dropping, they are not socialising, they have withdrawn into their rooms … their self esteem is low,” Dr Gordon said.
Traditional treatment approaches include psychotherapy and anti-depressant medication. But as veteran mental health nurse Chris Pavlou explained, not all teenagers respond to those options.
“For around 40 to 60 percent this does not work,” Ms Pavlou said. “It is not effective.”
Now a team of mental health experts at Monash Health in Melbourne have been given permission by the Therapeutic Goods Administration to embark on a radical treatment approach to adolescent depression.
Known as transcranial magnetic stimulation – or TMS for short – it involves placing a magnetic paddle against the patient’s head which emits small electrical pulses. That energy is thought to stimulate nerve cells in the region of the brain involved in mood control.
So far 13 teenagers have undergone magnetic therapy at Dandenong Hospital in Melbourne’s south-east. The young patients are exposed to the magnetic pulses for five half-hour sessions over a month.
And while still in the early stages of the trial, lead researcher Dr Gordon said most patients have reported a lift in mood.
“A number of people have become less depressed … when other things have failed or not worked. So we’re buoyed by that,” he said.
Ms Pavlou has also detected a noticeable change in several of the young depression sufferers.
“It is really really exciting to see the difference in the way these young people feel, how their positivity has come back,” she said.
Year 12 student Meg is among those taking part, after suffering severe bouts of depression since her early teens.
“It is like a dark cloud that follows you 24-7,” the 18-year-old said. “For a long time I struggled with telling a lot of people. I thought it would make me seem weak and vulnerable.”
After being prescribed various anti-depressant medications with mixed results, Ms Stewart decided to try TMS. While her depression has not been cured, she did experience an improvement in how she felt immediately after the sessions.
“I thought ‘why not, I’ll give it a shot’. And you know it was a regally positive experience,” Meg said.
TMS is non-invasive, painless and some patients find it so relaxing they even fall asleep during treatment. But some do experience slight side-effects such as headaches.
Studies on adults suggest TMS is effective on about 30 percent of depression patients for whom traditional interventions have not worked.
The true impact on adolescent mental health is still under examination.
To continue their study, Monash Health is recruiting more teenagers with clinically diagnosed depression.
Meg is staying positive by focusing on her Year 12 schoolwork and her burgeoning business – Meg’s Cakes.
“I bake cakes, so that is kind of my saviour. It’s my happy place,” she said.
She said her best therapy of all is her loving friends and family.
“I’ve got so much support around me and I’m really lucky with that.”
Those interested in taking part can find out more here.