MUMBAI: Six months ago, south Mumbai-based executive Ramesh Joshi's behaviour started worrying his family. He would take two hours to finish a meal. While walking, he would suddenly freeze at a spot. He would stammer if he had to speak more than a couple of lines. The medical diagnosis — major depressive disorder — stunned his family.
They were even more shocked when nine anti-depressants a day failed to help him. Finally, they sought rTMS or repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation, the newest entrant in the field of depression treatment in the city. Over three weeks and 20 sessions of magnetic stimulation later, his sluggishness and diffidence almost disappeared. His daily dosage of anti-depressants was down to two. Today, the 35-year-old is back at work and speaks clearly. "I could feel my family's shock as I took one spoonful of food every 10 minutes, but I couldn't help it,'' he said.
Joshi's psychiatrist, Dr Shamsah Sonawalla, who studied rTMS during her stint in Harvard University, says the non-invasive therapy helped transform him in the shortest possible time.
Sonawalla said, "While taking down Joshi's medical history, we realized he was battling mild depression perhaps for seven to eight years. This time, he experienced psychomotor retardation (when speech and action slow down)." But TMS transformed him in the shortest possible time, she added.
Magnetic therapy made its debut in the city almost two years ago, but its clinical efficacy among Indian patients in only now getting established. Sonawalla has treated 65 people with major depression using the technique at her Trans Mag Well-Being Clinic on Peddar Road. "Of these, 28 had treatment-resistant depression, 37 had moderate to severe major depression," she said. Each patient responded to the waves, but in different measures. Those who were resistant to medical treatment showed about 60% response, while persons with moderate to severe depression registered 90% improvement.
The therapy, which won the US FDA approval in 2008, involves using magnetic field externally to stimulate nerve cells in the brain. "An electromagnetic coil is placed on the scalp at a predetermined site. The rTMS device then delivers focused magnetic pulses to the brain," said Sonawalla, who also consults at Jaslok Hospital. The 20-minute sessions are typically held daily for 2 to 4 weeks.
Anusha Namboodiri is another case in point. The 42-year-old was in between jobs, managing a household and children as a single parent because her husband worked in Dubai. "I would start crying for the slightest reason," she said. It was when she started harbouring suicidal thoughts that she was brought to Trans Mag clinic. "Within a couple of her 15-session schedule, a positive change was noticeable. She is now happy at her new job and reads for hours," said Sonawalla.
(Names of patients changed on request)