A recent study has shown that a specific kind of TMS brain stimulation is effective in reducing suicidal thinking. After receiving bilateral repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) 40% of people in the study reported no longer having suicidal thoughts. This is one of the first large studies to prove that rTMS is effective in treating suicidal ideation.
Suicidal thoughts are often associated with depression, but they can occur in several mental illnesses including PTSD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and borderline personality disorder. Around 90% of people who die by suicide have some sort of mental illness.
While there are traditional treatment options such as medications and psychotherapy for people with mental illnesses, there is an urgent need for new treatments that quickly and specifically reverse suicidal thinking. One of the only effective methods for treating suicidal thoughts is electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). However, ECT isn’t commonly used due to the stigma attached to it and the side effects associated with the treatment.
Studies have already proven that TMS is effective in treating treatment-resistant depression, which is when people don’t respond to traditional treatments such as medication and therapy. This study aimed to see if TMS could specifically be used to treat suicidal thoughts.
In the study participants were randomly assigned to three groups. One group received rTMS on both the right and left frontal lobes, called bilateral TMS. Another group received left front lobe stimulation, known as unilateral rTMS. The last group was a placebo group and received sham TMS. The TMS treatment happened five times a week for 3-6 weeks.
Bilateral rTMS was proven to have the biggest effect on reducing and eliminating suicidal ideas. 40% of people who received bilateral rTMS reported no longer experiencing suicidal thought. Comparatively only 27% of those who received unilateral rTMS and 19% of those who received sham TMS no longer experience suicidal thoughts. Bilateral rTMS also was the most effective in preventing suicidal thoughts from developing in people who didn’t initially experience suicidal thinking.
Another interesting thing to come out of the study was that the decrease in suicidal thinking was not strongly linked to a decrease in depression symptoms. This suggests that while suicidality is related to depression, it’s not just a symptom.
If you want to learn more about TMS, or are experiencing suicidal thoughts or behavior, please contact us right away. We can get you the help and relief you need.