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A novel treatment option for depression

A woman holding a small white dog
Stephanie Bergman shares her experience with repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation at Sunnybrook’s Harquail Centre for Neuromodulation.

For most of the past 25 years, Stephanie Bergman has been able to manage her depression with medication. But there were other times when she struggled deeply.

“I was ready to try anything to be able to support myself and be a better mom, daughter and wife,” she says.

Stephanie tried a gamut of treatment approaches over the years, none of which had any significant impact.

And then she learned about rTMS.


Accelerating advances in neuromodulation

Offered at Sunnybrook’s Harquail Centre for Neuromodulation since 2019, repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation, or rTMS, is a noninvasive therapy that uses magnetic pulses to stimulate the brain through the skull. Approved by Health Canada for treatment-resistant depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), it’s been shown to deliver some level of improvement in about 80 per cent of patients. Treatments take between three and 20 minutes a day over the course of several weeks and patients can also receive “booster” doses when the need arises.

“We know in depression that some parts of the brain are underactive and others are overactive,” explains Dr. Peter Giacobbe, a psychiatrist and clinical lead at the Harquail Centre. “By administering the energy to a discreet part of the brain, we’re able to rebalance the connectivity.”

Dr. Giacobbe and his team rely on donor funding and research grants to help accelerate advances in neuromodulation and increase access to treatment.


One of the largest centres for rTMS in Canada, Sunnybrook’s Harquail Centre for Neuromodulation is also fueling research into the effects of rTMS on eating disorders and concussion with the help of philanthropic support.

An important catalyst, philanthropy helped grow the Harquail Centre for Neuromodulation into a recognized and global leader, and it continues to drive research, innovation and clinical applications of novel image-guided technologies. Each breakthrough reveals new questions to explore.

A women sits in a repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation machine
A women sits in a repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation machine
A women sits in a repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation machine
The team at Sunnybrook prep’s Stephanie for her treatment. rTMS is a noninvasive therapy that uses magnetic pulses to stimulate the brain through the skull.
Sharing her experience

For Stephanie, access to rTMS has proved life-changing. “My family often tells me that I’m back to myself. Things are so much better.” It’s now a regular part of her treatment plan, along with medication and light therapy.

Statistics show that of the 5 per cent of Canadians who are diagnosed with depression every year, about one-third will not get better with medication alone.

“You have to learn to cope because depression doesn’t go away,” she says.