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Harriet Berkal
Photo by Manny Berkal-Sarbit


by Harriet Berkal, May 14, 2015



It’s 2015 and I’m in SHOCK!


On TV, you can peruse through the stations, and find almost any subject matter, from same sex marriage to transgender transformation. We hear about social media and bullying and fear the maniacal brutal terrorism of ISIS.



Yet within our own relatively safe lives here on the prairies, it’s not hard to feel the silent STIGMA that looms over those suffering from depression.


One can be diabetic and not produce insulin and there is no shame in revealing that to anyone. You break your leg and it’s obvious to others that you might need help. But if your brain chemistry is not optimal and is amiss, you might think twice about sharing that with others.


The brain is key to how we function as humans, yet we know so little about it as an organ. But fear not, the winds of change are amongst us. I believe we are about to turn the corner to reveal other ways to restore that chemical imbalance that is limiting so many from enjoying life.


I’m speaking, of course, about rTMS, which stands for repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation. Are you sitting down, as this treatment involves not one single pill? There is no memory loss as with ECT, which is highly effective and is still practiced all the time. rTMS is a non-invasive treatment for depression that has been around for some time, but is truly coming of age NOW! 


Hospitals across Canada are purchasing these rTMS machines. They deliver a magnetic current to your brain, which has been mapped out via MRI. This helps the doctor and the technician locate the exact region to locate your motor threshold.


There used to be private rTMS facilities called Mindcare Canada. They operated in about three provinces and worked with teaching psychiatric facilities to collect data on the merits of rTMS. Some patients, who were referred through the institutions, paid nothing, while others would pay thousands of dollars for treatments. This is revealing as it speaks to the fact, that they were willing to pay out of pocket, up to $7-9,000, because they knew rTMS worked and provided much needed relief.  


At present, the private sector no longer provides this service. The provincial government hospitals are buying the machines themselves. Why is this?  Clearly, the health care system recognizes that it can be used for a variety of ailments, depression being just one of them. It is being utilized for OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), MS and even Parkinson’s.


The St. Boniface Foundation is trying to raise additional monies to enable the hospital to purchase additional equipment. There is another machine, where the treatment takes only 3 minutes versus one or two half hour sessions, which would allow for more patients to be seen. Funding becomes critical at this juncture. It will solidify the treatment as mainstream.


As well, those who have had it in the past and responded well, require maintenance treatments. This is why the need to expand the program becomes more of a necessity.  The wife of one sufferer, who is too ill to respond, has his wife speak on his behalf. Her husband has truly benefitted from rTMS and maintenance treatments are a necessity for his welfare. " My husband is totally debilitated without this treatment. These sessions are the only thing that alleviates it. Without this help, he just gets very sick again. rTMS restores quality to his life and to ours as a family. This program has to broaden, to accommodate all those it has helped before, to maintain their equilibrium and feel whole once again.”



If ever there was a medical service that was deserving of COMMITTED financial support, it is rTMS. If we ask ourselves who benefits from this, beyond the obvious patient, the answer is far reaching. The cost effectiveness alone is worth looking at. Our healthcare system could potentially reduce the number of beds taken up in our hospitals and free up emergencies for those having nowhere else to turn. It has the ability to save a life – yes a LIFE, from those who are contemplating suicide. How do we put a value on that? And think of all those on disability, who could return to productive lives. The insurance companies would certainly gain from this, as would our whole society. Improving the quality of lives makes for a healthier economy. Clearly the community as a whole would benefit if this were a conventional standard treatment.



I think it is fair to say that the majority of us have gone through an episode or more of depression in our lifespans. Medications take longer to work and have all sorts of side effects. Some individuals who have had rTMS have been able to reduce or go off their medications.




It’s time to let depression out of the closet and recognize it as a chemical imbalance, not one that diminishes our intellect, our empathy for others, our ability to advocate for better care, or invalidates us as human beings.  rTMS warrants our attention and financial support today so that all of our futures can be brighter and  productive.


At present, in Manitoba, one requires a referral to rTMS by a psychiatrist. But perhaps this will change and referrals by family doctors will be allowed, as they are in Ontario, where the program has broadened.


To learn more about the rTMS team at St. Boniface and what they do follow the link below:

Those interested in making donations towards rTMS can contact the St. Boniface Hospital Foundation at 204-237-2067

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