Pilot project introduced to treat major depressive disorder

(GNB) – The government has partnered with the Horizon Health Network, Saint John-based Canadian Health Solutions and the Chalmers Foundation to offer a pilot project to help treat major depressive disorder.

The treatment, called repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation, influences the electrical activity of the brain by passing brief pulses of electrical current through a non-invasive procedure that does not require sedation.

Major depressive disorder is a common, disabling and costly illness that is resistant to treatment.

“We see the impacts of untreated mental illness throughout the province,” said Health Minister Bruce Fitch. “As the mental health crisis grows, it is imperative for us to seek innovative technologies that can provide long-term solutions to patients.”

The treatment, funded by Medicare through this pilot project, is available at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital in Fredericton and two community clinics in Moncton and Saint John. This two-year pilot project, which is already up and running, will cost $2.2 million annually in operational costs and staffing.

“I was privileged to be given a tour of one facility where this treatment is underway, and saw first-hand how remarkable the results are,” said Sherry Wilson, minister responsible for mental health and addictions. “Our government cannot solve the mental health crisis alone, so partnerships with organizations like Canadian Health Solutions and the Chalmers Foundation are pivotal.”

Although effective treatment for depression exists, at least one third of patients with major depressive disorder do not respond to antidepressants or psychotherapy.

“We know that major depressive disorder can have significant impacts on a person’s everyday life, and with this innovative treatment, we will be able to significantly improve lives,” said Dr. Anthony Njoku, chief of psychiatry for Fredericton and Upper River Valley with Horizon Health Network. “Horizon is committed to improving health care for New Brunswickers, which includes improving access to addictions and mental health services. This pilot is just one of many examples of what we are doing to improve access to the best possible treatment.”

Saint John-based Canadian Health Solutions offers the treatment in Moncton and Saint John.

“This evidence-based treatment is truly revolutionary in treating major depressive disorder,” said Dr. David Elias, president and CEO of Canadian Health Solutions. “Research shows an impressive 75 per cent response rate and 49 per cent remission rate, aligning with the clinical results we have seen among our patients. We see how this treatment is transforming lives and are excited to work with the Department of Health to provide greater access to this game-changing treatment for New Brunswickers who are suffering from major depression.”

The Chalmers Foundation also raised funds for the purchase of a repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation machine.

“As part of our commitment to participate in the solution surrounding the current mental health crisis, in 2022 the Chalmers Foundation raised $170,000 for the purchase of the first repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation machine within Horizon Health Network,” said Charles A. Diab, CEO of the foundation. “One in five New Brunswickers lives with a mental health or substance use issue, so expanding the tools available for treatment is essential. The patient outcomes, in addition to the benefits and cost-effectiveness of this treatment were recognized by our donors who support healthy, caring communities.”

New Brunswick is the fifth province to have the publicly funded treatment available, and up to 200 patients are expected to be treated as part of the pilot project. Patients must be referred by a psychiatrist to access the treatment.

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Kris McDavid
Media Relations