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At the frontier of brain science: Brain stimulation therapies for mental illness
Brain stimulation therapies have the potential to revolutionize mental health care and significantly improve
the lives of people who suffer from psychiatric illness. Despite the wide variety of antidepressant drugs
available today, nearly a third of people with major depression do not respond well to medication or
psychotherapy. In Ontario, up to 274,000 people in 2014 are estimated to experience treatment-resistant
depression. For these patients, brain stimulation therapies can offer an effective, non-invasive alternative to
existing treatments. In addition to treating major depression, these therapies also hold promise for
preventing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
The Temerty Centre for Therapeutic Brain Stimulation at CAMH
Within CAMH’s Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute, the Temerty Centre for Therapeutic Brain
Stimulation offers Canada’s most advanced and extensive brain stimulation program. Here, next-generation
techniques are producing physiological changes in the brains of people with serious and persistent mental
illness; effectively relieving symptoms with significantly fewer side-effects. CAMH clinicians and researchers
are working to develop and perfect non-invasive brain stimulation treatments for people with treatmentresistant depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other mental illnesses.
Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS)
Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) is a safe, effective, and rapid-acting treatment for
patients who cannot tolerate electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and/or do not respond well to medications.
Like ECT, rTMS stimulates an area of the brain thought to be underactive in people with depression. But, as
the first non-invasive brain stimulator to treat mental illness, rTMS relieves symptoms without inducing a
seizure. rTMS is effective in 30 - 50 per cent of patients who have tried numerous other treatments without
success. Moreover, because magnetic stimulation is targeted to a small area, patients experience few to no
side-effects. Despite promising outcomes and Health Canada approval, rTMS is not yet covered by
government health insurance in most provinces. CAMH was one of the first hospitals in Canada to provide
rTMS treatments to patients experiencing medication-resistant symptoms and continues to do so.
Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS)
Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a non-invasive, painless brain stimulation treatment that
uses direct electrical currents to stimulate specific parts of the brain. An advantage of tDCS is that it is easy
to administer and the equipment is easily portable. A constant, low intensity current is passed through two
electrodes placed over the head which modulates neuronal activity. tDCS has been investigated as a
treatment for various psychiatric disorders and is now being studied as a possible therapy to prevent
Alzheimer’s disease.
Media contact: Kate Richards, Media Relations, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)
416 535-8501 ext. 36015; [email protected]