TMS vs. Antidepressants: Which is right for you?

TMS vs. Antidepressants: Which is right for you?

Approximately 17.3 million adults suffer from depression in the U.S. every year, according to studies from the National Institute of Mental Health. That accounts for around 7.1% of the population.

Antidepressants have been an integral part of treatment plans for patients suffering from depression of varying degrees since 1988 when Prozac — an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) medication used to treat depression — was first approved by the Food and Drug Administration. At its peak, Prozac became the third most prescribed medication in the U.S. in the late 2000s, according to reports by The New York Times.

Antidepressant medications are proven effective for relieving symptoms of depression, though their efficacy depends greatly on the severity of depression, particular patients, and factors from other health conditions.

At the height of antidepressant prescriptions in the U.S., another non-medicative method for treating depression, called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), was approved for use by the FDA. It has become a viable, effective, safe way of alleviating depression without the need for medication.

 Overview of Antidepressants

There are several different types of antidepressant medications available today. During the period of widespread adoption of antidepressants in the country, SSRIs were the primary option for treatment. However, minor inconvenient side effects among certain patients spawned the development of other effective antidepressants.

Today, these are the most commonly prescribed antidepressants available:

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): These antidepressants remain the go-to option for doctors, as they have a long history of safe treatment and low-risk of severe side effects. They work by increasing levels of serotonin in the brain.

Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs): This form of antidepressant is similar to SSRIs, though patients who move from SSRIs to SNRIs may find they experience less of certain side effects. SNRIs affect serotonin levels as well as other neurotransmitters in the brain.

Other forms of antidepressants exist, though SSRIs and SNRIs account for the majority of treatments in the U.S.

 Overview of TMS Therapy

TMS therapy is a form of treatment for depression that uses magnetic pulses to stimulate nerves in the brain. The magnetic pulses work to stimulate areas of the brain that have experienced less activity due to the onset of depression.

The treatment is completely non-invasive and painless, and has proven to be effective and safe for alleviating symptoms of major depression. This is especially true for patients who are resistant to other methods of treatment or who experience adverse effects from taking antidepressants.

Additionally, TMS treatment has been proven to have the ability to permanently eliminate symptoms of depression in patients after undergoing a short-term, repetitive treatment plan.

TMS therapy involves placing an electrode cap on your head that delivers acute electromagnetic pulses to your brain. During treatment, patients experience a mild tapping sensation on their head where the electromagnetic coils are placed. This sensation is pain-free and involves no electric shock.

Most treatment plans for TMS therapy last for a duration of four to six weeks, during which time patients will undergo repetitive treatment sessions that last around 30-minutes each.

 Which depression treatment is better?

Both antidepressants and TMS therapy are viable, safe methods for treating depression. It is important to discuss your symptoms with your psychiatrist to develop the appropriate treatment plan. TMS therapy is becoming more popular due to the fact that it has the potential to alleviate ongoing depression symptoms without the need for taking daily medication. Additionally, patients can avoid any potential side effects from medication.

Dr. Julia Evans, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist and owner of Brain Wellness Institute (BWI). Dr. Evans specializes in neuropsychological evaluation, cognitive rehabilitation, and psychotherapy. She obtained her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Loma Linda University and completed her fellowship at UCLA, pre-doctoral internship at Vanderbilt University, and Bachelor’s degree from USC. You can read Dr. Evans full bio here.

BWI’s practice includes a variety of clinicians, from psychologists and psychiatrists to nurse practitioners and licensed marriage and family therapist as well as advanced doctoral trainees. Our team members and clinicians are active members of the mental health community, participating in many different associations such as the American Psychological Association and the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. Our office is located at 940 South Coast Drive, Suite 225, in Costa Mesa, California. We can be reached by phone at (949) 743-1457, by fax at (949) 274-8299 or by email at You can read more about all of our providers here.

BWI has many working relationships with other practices in the area including Hoag, Kaiser Permanente, Harbor Psychiatry/Harbor Mental Health, The Gateway Institute, SoCal TMS, A New Era TMS, Community Psychiatry, Greenbrook TMS, Psychology Today, Rogers Healthcare, Restoration Healthcare, The Mental Health Collective, Allied Psychological Services, TMS Health and Wellness and many others.