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CAMH Stories Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

Innovations in Brain Science

CAMH’s 2nd Annual Campbell Family Mental Health Symposium

Gail Bellissimo is a married mother of four boys who lives in Mississauga. She was diagnosed with major, treatment resistant depression in the early 2000s but says looking back she struggled with symptoms of depression as early as high school.

Gail Bellissimo
On November 18, Gail shared her experience as part of a media panel discussion on brain stimulation therapies during CAMH’s Second Annual Campbell Family Mental Health Symposium. Chaired by Dr. Jeff Daskalakis, Head of the Temerty Centre for Therapeutic Brain Intervention and Chief of the Mood and Anxiety Division at CAMH, the symposium featured innovations in brain science, with a theme of the evolution of therapeutics for mental illness.

“Telling someone who is depressed to ‘look on the bright side’, ‘appreciate the little things’ or worse, to ‘live in the moment’ just doesn’t work. There are no moments, there is only existence,” said Gail.

Over the years, Gail tried dozens of medications in combination with psychotherapy but it wasn’t until earlier this year when she received repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) as part of a CAMH research study led by the Temerty Centre for Therapeutic Brain Intervention, that she really felt a shift and the fog began to lift. 

Gail responded well to rTMS and after the first two weeks of treatment, “I could breathe,” she said.  “It felt like the lead weight was lifted off me. By the third week of treatment I felt like I deserved to be here.” Gail has since been able to reduce her medication and finds she is getting more out of psychotherapy.   

Dr. Mark George, Director of the Brain Stimulation Laboratory at the Medical University of South Carolina who pioneered the use of TMS for treatment resistant depression also took part in the panel discussion. “Electricity is the currency of the brain,” Dr. George told the audience as he explained how TMS works by “pinging” a targeted part of the brain to get a response.      

CAMH experts are working to move the use of brain stimulation therapies forward and are exploring other possible applications including dementia. Dr. Benoit Mulsant, Physician-in-Chief at CAMH is the lead investigator on a large study on preventing Alzheimer’s dementia. Dr. Mulsant outlined how his research team is combining transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) with cognitive remediation in people at high risk of developing the disease.

The keynote speaker, Dr. Arvid Carlsson, Professor Emeritus at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, gave renewed inspiration to students and seasoned scientists in the audience. In 2000, Dr. Carlsson was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his fundamental discoveries on dopamine and its role in Parkinson disease, which also paved the way for the development of schizophrenia medications.  At 91 years, Dr. Carlsson could not attend in person but spoke via Skype and answered questions about research, creativity and dedication to discovery. A video of Dr. Carlsson talking about his research is available on CAMHTV.

The symposium also featured Dr. Etienne Sibille, the new Campbell Family Chair in Clinical Neuroscience, as well as a series of short “Hot Topics” lectures by scientists working across the Campbell Institute: Drs. Stephanie Ameis on the need for evidence-based autism treatment, Christian Hendershot on personalized treatments for alcohol dependence, Daniela Lobo on gambling genes, Romina Mizrahi on dopamine dysfunction in people at high risk of developing schizophrenia, and Valerie Taylor on the issue of weight in relation to mental illness.

Click here for a full list of speakers.

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