Suicide – Conventional Prevention Treatments or TMS?

TMS Expert Blog

by Ailish, TMS Technician, Dublin, Ireland

In her latest article, our Irish TMS Technician Ailish looks at how traditional suicide prevention treatments compare to the idea of using Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation treatment.

Suicide Statistics and Facts

World health Organisation statistics indicate that over 800,000 people take their own lives every year. The total number of suicide attempts is thought to be around 20 times higher (WHO report, 2014).

In the UK, Office of National Statistics (ONS) data for 2017 shows:

  • 5,821 suicides registered in the UK, equating to 10.1 deaths per 100,000 population (age-standardised)
  • Males accounted for three-quarters of suicides (4,382 deaths). This has been the case since the mid-1990s
  • The suicide rate in males is 15.5 deaths per 100,000 compared to 4.9 per 100,000 for women

Suicide is difficult to talk about, both for the person who is having suicidal feelings and those around them. However, every suicide has a devastating impact on those around – family, friends, colleagues and the community. Finding appropriate suicide prevention treatments is therefore crucially important.

Smart TMS Therapist, Ailish O’Grady, outlines the traditional treatment options:

“Over the past five decades, governments worldwide have invested heavily in research studies and resources to investigate the most effective therapies and medications for treatment of suicidality. The efficacy of current available treatments is not entirely compelling and brings with them serious side effects, and the rates of suicide each year remain largely unchanged.

“However, a new avenue of suicide prevention treatment has emerged in the form of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS). From preliminary studies, this new alternative therapy appears promising in not only reducing suicidality but treating underlying psychiatric disorders also.”

Current Treatment Options

Ailish explains the treatments that are most commonly used for individuals at risk of suicide, explaining the issues and side-effects to be taken into account:

“Current treatments available for individuals at risk of suicide include antidepressants, anti-psychotics, Lithium, Clozapine electroconvulsive therapy and various kinds of psychotherapies. However, lithium and clozapine have been found to cause serious and burdening side effects, which decreases likelihood of the application of these medications to wider populations.

“While antidepressant and antipsychotic medications are commonly prescribed by GPs to people experiencing suicidal thoughts and/or psychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety, there is uncertainty in relation to the effect these medications have on suicidal ideation specifically (Ciprani et al., 2016). In fact, some medications have been discovered to increase suicidal thoughts in certain subgroups eg. Youth, individuals with Bipolar disorder (Zimmerman et al., 2002; Isacsson, Holmgren, Ösby & Ahlner, 2009).”

One of the issues with medication is that it can be quite slow for it to work correctly, as Ailish explains:

“…it can take up to weeks or months to determine the optimal dose and blend of these medications, in the meantime, the person remains at serious risk of suicide.”

There are similar time-delay issues with talking therapy and counselling. Ailish continues:

“…while various types of therapy have been found to be extremely useful in treating psychiatric disorders, it can take anywhere from a few weeks to months to reap the psychological benefits of psychotherapy, concurrently leaving a person at risk of dying by suicide.

ECT – electroconvulsive therapy – is another option used in severe cases. Ailish adds:

“While electroconvulsive therapy has been shown to reduce suicidality, due to the treatment side effects, participant’s low-tolerance, high-cost and associated stigma, it is not widely used.”

She concludes:

“In order to tackle this on-going widespread issue of suicide, alternative well-tolerated, effective and efficient interventions that rapidly reduce suicidality should be researched.

“Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is a non-invasive neuromodulation technique which uses electromagnetic induction to stimulate the cerebral cortex. Repetitive TMS can modify the excitability of the cerebral cortex at targeted sites that are affected by psychiatric disorders such as depression, OCD anxiety among others.”


Ailish TMS technician

Ailish, TMS Technician

Ailish is a TMS Technician at the Smart TMS Ireland Clinic in Dublin.

Her qualifications and experience include:

  • Degree in Psychology through science, Maynooth University.
  • Voluntary work as a Mental Health carer.
  • Ailish has particular interests in the fields of Mental Health, Cognition and Neuroscience.


Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is a technological breakthrough in the treatment of depression and anxiety without drugs.

Additionally, there is clinical evidence for a variety of further potential treatment applications including: addictions (alcohol, cocaine, meth, nicotine, gambling) as well as DPD (Depersonalisation Disorder), OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), BPD (borderline personality disorder).

Smart TMS

Smart TMS was established in 2015, dedicated to providing TMS treatment in London at their South Kensington/Brompton Cross centre. The company opened a second clinic in Birmingham in September 2017 and also has a base in Northampton.  The first Irish clinic was opened in Dublin in October 2017 and in 2018, Smart TMS opened further locations in Manchester, Bristol and Havant (South Coast).

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