Mental health clinic uses technology to treat patients effectively
January 28, 2021
TORONTO – As more Canadians struggle to cope with the unprecedented impact of living through a global pandemic – with 50 per cent reporting their mental health has worsened as a result of COVID-19, according to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) – a new, unique high-tech mental health clinic in Toronto is seeing a surge in patients of all ages.
“If you have a predisposition for mental distress, the pandemic may trigger clinical levels of anxiety or depression that require professional intervention,” said Dr. Leo Steiner, who opened TMS Clinics of Canada in September to pioneer a groundbreaking, non-invasive treatment that combines cutting-edge brain technology – called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) – with talk therapy to treat depression, along with anxiety, OCD and other mental health issues.
Since opening its doors, the clinic is busier than expected, treating an equal number of men and women aged 18 to 75 with an impressive success rate. “More than 70 percent of the people we’re seeing are experiencing a reduction in intensity of their symptoms, and roughly 60 percent are approaching full remission,” Dr. Steiner said.
The clinic’s unique approach involves a combination of cutting-edge technology – the world’s most advanced TMS machine developed by Israeli scientists and approved by Health Canada that uses magnetic fields to stimulate the brain’s nerve cells – with psychotherapy specifically designed to accompany the technology.
Unlike a small number of Ontario hospitals that are using TMS primarily as a research tool, TMS Clinics of Canada is providing a patient-centric service that combines daily 20-minute TMS treatments together with supportive talk therapy sessions. Most patients report significant improvement after about four weeks of treatment, according to Dr. Steiner, with some patients able to wean off their prescribed medication entirely.
How TMS works: TMS works by sending painless electromagnetic pulses to stimulate circuitry in areas of the brain that have decreased activity in people who suffer from mood disturbance. Patients wear a specially designed helmet to carefully map out the precise area that requires stimulation.
Dr. Steiner explained the game-changing technology solves a prominent “disconnect” in the brain, common in people who suffer from clinical levels of depression and anxiety. Brain imaging studies of these patients reveal underactive connectivity between the rational, planning area of the brain (the pre-frontal cortex) to areas that regulate emotions, motivation and energy. Without adequate connectivity, patients simply don’t have the circuitry they need to get well.
“In very broad strokes, it’s similar to ballroom dancing,” he said. “You have the ‘lead’ that knows the steps but lacks the passion, and you have the ‘follow’ that has all the energy, but lacks direction. They clearly need one another to dance. The front part of the brain is the lead, it knows what to do when, and the back is the follow, where the energy and passion reside. If you cut the connection between the two, your emotions are untethered from the part of the brain that should be directing them.”
Life-changing results: For Emma Piggott, a 32-year-old resident of Keswick, Ontario, the clinic’s novel approach has been life-transforming. After suffering from deep depression, OCD and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) for more than half of her life, the young mother of two boys was desperate for help. When she suffered a major breakdown in September, her parents encouraged her to give the new TMS clinic a try.
“I’ve been in and out of therapy for years and used to be on a variety of medications,” Piggott said. “Since I started TMS treatment, I’m a changed person. I’m more engaged with my kids, I get up in the morning and I’m back to being the happy, positive person I was when I was younger,” she said, adding that even her sons, ages eight and nine, notice a difference.
Not only does Piggott now feel like a huge weight has lifted, she’s also moving forward with her dream to become an electrician and recently started a pre-apprenticeship program. “Throughout the pandemic, people have been saying what a horrible year 2020 was,” she said. “For me, it was one of my best years yet because I finally got out of my depression.”
Sam Bessey, a 50-year-old war veteran who began experiencing post-traumatic stress-related depression following 21 years of military service, including four stints in Bosnia and two in Afghanistan, reported similar results from his TMS treatment.
“Before the therapy, I felt completely black and hopeless, and had no happiness at all,” said Bessey, who is based in Chalk River, Ontario, and was treated with Dr. Steiner’s TMS and talk therapy for just over five weeks.
“The treatment alleviated my depression and I now have a larger emotional range of feelings, am more present with my family and not as reclusive as I was,” he explained, adding that his wife and three grown daughters noticed a change in his previously flat voice tone after just three weeks. “I may not always be happy now, but if I’m not, it’s my choice not to be and not the black feeling in my brain blocking it.”
Dr. Steiner, who has more than 30 years of experience in the mental health field, has worked with indigenous populations, federal inmates, and military veterans, as well as both in-patient and out-patient psychiatric departments in GTA hospitals. With a specialty in Rehabilitation Psychology and Neuropsychology, he decided to invest in TMS technology after visiting several clinics in the U.S. where the treatment has been approved by the FDA for the last 10 years. “I know what patients look like when they’re in the midst of treatment and I couldn’t believe it. People were actually beaming, optimistic and happy. There was a certain amount of energy in the room that you just don’t see in a traditional clinic setting,” he said.
The breakthrough machine used at TMS Clinics of Canada is capable of precisely targeting deeper, more diffuse parts of the brain. In addition to treating depression and anxiety, the clinic just acquired a coil designed to treat OCD that was recently approved by Health Canada and will also be used for smoking cessation in the future.
“Many of the people I see simply cannot talk. They’re angry, depressed, despairing and they just sit there while the hour ticks by,” Dr. Steiner explained. “This treatment often helps them open up and facilitates talk therapy.”