Over 600 guests rose bright and early to attend our annual Mental Health Breakfast on March 1. This year’s event highlighted a gap in current options for people in Edmonton and wider Alberta that battle clinical depression and are resistant to treatment. 

Our keynote speaker, Dr. Frank MacMaster, and patient advocate Tim Hay spoke to guests about Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation­ (TMS), a non-invasive, research-supported technology that can bring relief to those suffering from mental illness. The two men made a compelling case for remedying the current absence nearby of the equipment required for this treatment. An incredible $275,000 was raised at the breakfast for the purchase of TMS equipment in Edmonton.

Frank MacMaster helped ground the impact of TMS in science and the biology of the brain. Dr. MacMaster is a neuroscientist working in the area of pediatric mental illness. His current work is focused on using brain stimulation, including TMS technology, to help children and teens affected by mental illness. He described how, unlike the more invasive Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT), which is the last resort for severe cases of depression, TMS targets only the part of the brain that regulates emotion, using a magnetic field to change how brain cells act. New technologies like TMS represent the future of mental health treatment: a movement away from guesswork, says Dr. MacMaster, towards something rooted in research.

Behind the research lies the devastating reality of clinical depression. Patient Advocate Tim Hay shared his experience living with severe depression and his 17-year journey through various treatment paths. Like 15-30% of patients with depression, Tim suffers from treatment-resistant depression. He tried drug, talk and other treatments finally progressing to the treatment of last resort, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Highly invasive, ECT worked for a while, but eventually Tim required increasingly more frequent treatments. Exhausted, consumed by debilitating side effects and facing a future without hope he desperately looked for an alternative. He found out about TMS, located a machine in the Ponoka Hospital and was able to arrange treatments.

For Tim, TMS has been life-altering. The treatment is easy and comfortable; the side effects, minimal and manageable. The non-invasive procedure allows him to stay awake and alert during treatment, from the comfort of a chair. Tim compares ECT to a bomb razing a forest, while TMS is like a painless sparkler lighting the way through the trees. Unfortunately, the nearest (and, in Alberta, only) place to receive this treatment is in Ponoka, a three hour drive away.

Tim feels strongly that others struggling with severe depression may also benefit from TMS if the technology and treatment was available.

The Mental Health Foundation – and the people who joined us March 1 – agree.

Having TMS equipment in Edmonton means that patients like Tim will not have to suffer hours of travel monthly to access a necessary treatment that is proven to improve quality of life and community standards. Like physical health, mental health must become a priority. Research into the biology of the brain is essential as are more effective services and supports for mental illness. The generous support we received enables us to move beyond talk…to informed action.

You can help us improve access to this life-altering technology. Please share our message and donate today.