Patients seek ‘last resort’ alternatives to treat depression

Sep 25, 2018, 8:09 AM | Updated: Sep 26, 2018, 1:17 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Imagine you have clinical depression. You’ve spent years trying all sorts of talk therapies and dozens of medications. Yet, the bad, foggy thoughts – including suicidal ones – just won’t go away.

There is still hope in the forms of alternative, lesser known treatments for depression right here in Utah. One is “magnetic therapy.”

Peter Cornish, 60, of Murray has spent his entire adult life-fighting depression.

“I don’t know how many episodes I’ve had, but I’m sure it’s over 20,” he said. “Most of them have lasted three months.”

Cornish struggled to get out of bed. His anxiety soared. By 2008, Cornish had to retire from his career in IT and software testing.

“That’s when I was losing hope,” he said. “I had been on a broad spectrum of different meds over the years and they weren’t working for me. So, that’s why we decided to try ECT.”

The team prepares to administer electroconvulsive therapy for a patient with depression.
Peter Cornish, 60, has battled depression most of his adult life.

Electroconvulsive therapy was the last resort for Cornish. Understandably, he didn’t want to do it.

“I don’t think anyone loves to go in-patient in a mental health unit,” he said. “On a scale of 1-to-10, where 1 is the worst depression, and 10 you’re feeling good, I was definitely at a 1.”

And American cinema has given the public frightening ideas about ECT.

“You know, like ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest,’ and so forth, where the person is having a full convulsion,” said Dr. Brian Mickey. “That doesn’t happen in modern ECT.”

Dr. Mickey administers that treatment at the University of Utah’s Neuropsychiatric Institute (UNI).

“We use brief pulses as opposed to sign wave stimulation,” he said. “Sine waves are what come out of your electrical outlets. That’s very bad for memory and cognition.”

Sign waves can break bones.

In 2009, Peter Cornish had one of his ECT sessions recorded and uploaded on YouTube. He lay in a hospital bed at UNI, with electrodes strapped to his forehead – not his temples. Cornish inhaled anesthesia for unconsciousness and paralysis.

“The whole idea about going under with an anesthetic, I was very happy about that,” Cornish chuckled.

His body twitched but did not violently shake, like in the movies. Before his medically induced sleep, remember how Cornish ranked his depression at a 1?

“Ten minutes later, I felt like a 7,” he said. “It was remarkable for me.”

“This region that we’re stimulating, we believe, is connected with some other really important brain areas, these networks that we understand as being responsible for depression,” Dr. Mickey said.

To be sure, Dr. Mickey says the electrical pulses caused a seizure in Cornish.

“Seizures, although we don’t know exactly why, clearly cause sprouting of new neurons, and new connections between neurons,” he said.

Seizures also release serotonin, dopamine and other neurochemicals, Dr. Mickey added.

UNI, among other places, also offers TMS, or transcranial magnetic stimulation, which doesn’t require anesthesia or cause seizures.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation is an alternative treatment for depression.

The patient sits in a big chair.

“And then we put a stimulator coil over the forehead, over the frontal cortex,” Dr. Mickey said. “It delivers pulses of stimulation.”

During TMS, patients read or watch TV.

Magnetic therapies require several treatments per week for up to six weeks. Dr. Mickey says side effects include temporary pain and discomfort with TMS.

With ECT, “People are going to have some degree of memory problems,” he said. “We do our best to minimize that.”

And Cornish says ECT’s relief for depression wears away. He returned for treatments in 2013 and 2016.

Still, he’s convinced the treaments were absolutely worth it.

“I’ve had the healthiest decade of my life,” Cornish said. “I facetiously say that it’s actually better than going to the dentist.”

Not all insurances support these treatments, which Cornish and Dr. Mickey call last resorts. They require extensive consultation with medical professionals first.

Today’s Top Stories

Mental Health Resources

world suicide prevention day 2020...
Amie Schaeffer and Lindsay Aerts

Utah adults have highest mental illness rate in country

A study found 26.86% of adults in Utah report some kind of mental illness including substance use disorder and thoughts of suicide.
2 months ago
utah women suicide...
Simone Seikaly

In Utah, more women are likely to attempt suicide than men

Utah women have specific risk factors for suicide, including domestic violence, religious dissonance, opioid and substance use, and LGBTQ+ identies.
3 months ago
Former US President Donald Trump's Twitter account has been reinstated on the platform....
Simone Seikaly

Twitter self-harm hashtag concerning for Utah mental health experts

A Twitter hashtag linked to self-harm content on the social media platform prompts concern from Utah mental health experts.
3 months ago
Gov. Cox mental health...
Allie Litzinger

Gov. Cox opens up about past mental heath struggles at press conference

Gov. Cox spoke of a friend's suicide, Utah's high suicide rate, and resources that are available to those experiencing mental health issues.
3 months ago
kids and body image KSL radio...
Simone Seikaly

How to help kids maintain a healthy body image in the digital age

Body image issues can arise in kids as young as 3 years of age. A psychiarist joins Dave and Dujanovic to offer insight.
4 months ago
Incumbent Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, debates GOP primary challenger Erin Rider aon Tuesday, May 31...
Simone Seikaly

Rep Stewart’s suicide prevention hotline, 988, goes live this week

It's been a long time in the making but the new number to call for suicide prevention, 988, will finally be live across the nation this week.
5 months ago

Sponsored Articles

Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...

The best tools for Deaf and hard-of-hearing workplace success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
christmas decorations candles in glass jars with fir on a old wooden table...
Western Nut Company

12 Mason Jar Gift Ideas for the 12 Days of Christmas [with recipes!]

There are so many clever mason jar gift ideas to give something thoughtful to your neighbors or friends. Read our 12 ideas to make your own!
wide shot of Bear Lake with a person on a stand up paddle board...

Pack your bags! Extended stays at Bear Lake await you

Work from here! Read our tips to prepare for your extended stay, whether at Bear Lake or somewhere else nearby.
young boy with hearing aid...

Accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing

These different types of accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing can help them succeed in school.
Young woman receiving laser treatment...
Form Derm Spa

How facial plastic surgery and skincare are joining forces

Facial plastic surgery is not only about looking good but about feeling good too. The medical team at Form Spa are trained to help you reach your aesthetic outcomes through surgery and through skincare and dermatology, too.
Patients seek ‘last resort’ alternatives to treat depression