Bipolar Depression Treatment -- What to Do if ECT Fails

November 30, 2014 Natasha Tracy

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is the most effective treatment available for bipolar (or unipolar) depression (Around 78% of people who get ECT show improvement, according to an United States Food and Drug Administration analysis, this is much higher than any drug.) but ECT is often thought of as a treatment of last resort. This is the case because of concerns over possible, serious ECT side effects like amnesia. But if ECT is the treatment of last resort, what do you do if that treatment fails?

Life After ECT Failure

If ECT has about a 80% success rate in depression then that, naturally, means that about 20% of people are not helped by it. What do those people do? Do they all just up and die?

No, of course they don't. While you might think that there are no treatments left after ECT, you would be wrong. I had ECT and it didn't work and I am still here to tell the tale. Not only that, I'm more well now than I have been in a long time.

In short, there is life, and wellness, after ECT fails.

ECT Failed -- What Do I Do?

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or Google+ or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter or at Bipolar Burble, her blog.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2014, November 30). Bipolar Depression Treatment -- What to Do if ECT Fails, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 19 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

Laura R
October, 7 2023 at 8:04 pm

I just completed a bunch of ECT treatments. It didn’t work for me. I have weird flashes/visions. I lost A LOT of memories and have trouble remembering new things. I a suicidal and lost. Please be careful if you do ECT and make sure you have a lot of support.

October, 8 2020 at 6:58 pm

I was so hopeful for ECT but it hasn’t worked for me. After the fifth and sixth treatment I started having what I describe as “after shocks”... I’ll just be sitting watching tv or something and will get a sensation like an electric shock that only last a second or so. But it keeps happening repeatedly.
My doctor says he’s never heard of anything like that and believes it’s anxiety attacks. I don’t agree but I went ahead and quit the treatment.
I had Ketamine treatment earlier in the year which didn’t help either.
I’ve been on numerous medications and am very sensitive to antipsychotics.
Very discouraged.

November, 12 2019 at 10:21 pm

ECT is bull, in my opinion. It was a total waste of time and money. My experiences were awful. I felt disoriented and anxious on waking up and it took me some time to come back to “normal.” Worse, since having the ECT I have had some very disturbing visions; nightmarish things, such as being lost all alone in desolate wastelands, for one example. No idea what these visions actually are, but I wouldn’t wish them on anyone. Crucially, I did not have these visions prior to ECT so I can only assume they are happening because of the ECT. I also suffer horrible nightmares every night and I did not have this problem prior to ECT. In addition, my memory is shot; it was never great but it’s really bad now. My anxiety is far worse than it ever was before the ECT and the depression is still very much there.
All up, I would definitely not recommend ECT. I had 11 sessions.
If it works for others then that is great and I am happy for them, but hell will freeze over before I go anywhere near an ECT treatment room again.

October, 8 2020 at 6:42 pm

Whoa, I just had 6 ECT treatments and was having weird side effects. One of which is that same nightmarish lost in a desolate land type dreams...which I’ve never had before

Billy Reed
June, 18 2019 at 5:45 pm

I'm on treatment #8 and I feel worse then ever, crying all day the day after the treatment with suicidal thoughts. I'm going to 12 ECT's and then I'm done, don't know what I'm going to do.

September, 19 2018 at 9:18 pm

Thank you natasha, you gave me hope...

September, 12 2018 at 5:42 am

I'm 68 with long standing treatment resistant bipolar/mixed state and non restorative sleep. I no longer experience raging manic episodes, finding myself, for the past few years, in a low grade depression. No joy from life, lost my sexual function about 8 years ago and now dealing with disassociation. Once more i'm considering ECT, though it scares me, as I think it should. It's not a 'treatment' that one should casually walk into.
I'm not looking for validation that's it's dangerous. For some people, it likely has saved their lives. Kitty Dukakis is one of them. But ECT provokes much passion, pro and con. Many of those who posted sound like me. Thank you for sharing.

Lynn Miller
August, 12 2018 at 8:35 am

I currently am receiving ECT. Now doing Bilateral. I have had a total of 15 with no improvement in my mood. After one tx I ended up in the psych ward overnight. It was terrifying. I still have more scheduled. I think I will just stop.

May, 29 2018 at 1:05 am

I’m currently getting ECT (so far had, I think, 4 unilateral and 11 bilateral) and it’s not looking good. In fact, I’ve been worse than ever. I’m not sure if that’s from the ECT or just from being off most meds for ECT and ECT not helping. Has anyone had this experience of worsening? I’ve never been so miserable. I’m going to discuss with the doc, my guess is we’ll agree to discontinue on Wednesday.

May, 22 2018 at 1:20 am

I just had my last ECT today. It was my 11th. Unfortunately didn’t work for me. I also had to take a week off because I got a very uncommon side effect ( constant Deja vu ) I’ve been on every medication there is , I still am on meds, but now I really don’t know what to do. I didn’t want to do the etc to begin with and I gave in and it didn’t work so I just don’t know anymore. Really don’t!

danielle Guyger
March, 22 2016 at 5:08 am

I am trying ECT as a last resort. I am bipolar but spen d almost all my time in a very low depressive state. Anti depressants, mood stabilizers and therapy have done nothing for me however I had 7 ECT treatment already and feel as bad as I did the first day u walked into the hospital. I am giving up hope.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

May, 22 2018 at 1:23 am

Good luck!!! I’m also bipolar and just finished etc today. didn’t work for me. they also switched me over to bilateral and no luck for me.... I’ve been on every medication there is , and am still on meds but nothing WORKS!!! but again wish u luck!

jamie Fields
February, 27 2015 at 3:18 pm

This just goes to show that there are alternative treatments out there other than drugs, They have helped me and many other sufferers i recommend that sufferers read into alternative treatments as they can help so much, Here's a review for a book that helped me and i think it would really help the rest of sufferers out there to.

February, 26 2015 at 10:17 pm

i have had over 50 ECT for Bipolar depression ranging from ultra brief to unilateral to bilateral to bilateral with the voltage turned way above my threshold. They even wanted to add in ketamine to my General Anasthetic but were denied by the medical board. I have lost 15 years of memory (I am now 27 and don't remember much from the age of 12). I stopped having them 5 months ago when they finally realised the extent of my memory loss. It was and is catastrophic. I forgot that my dad died for goodness sake. I agree with Sam who mentioned that years from now ECT will be seen as barbaric. I mean what on earth are we thinking. There is evidence that suggests that 90% will relapse within 6 months. I have also met someone who had ECT who had anterograde amnesia where he could no longer lay down new memories. ECT is dangerous - far more than is explained - and I wouldn't recommend it to anybody.

January, 29 2015 at 7:39 am

Natasha, have you done ECT? I have seen a few people who had to have many treatments come out like zombies and one even tried to commit suicide. Years from now scientists will look back at call it barbaric. Anti pychotics are bad enough but lighting you up like a telephone pole to me is criminal.

David Newman
January, 14 2015 at 2:39 pm

I do not understand why we are not pushing for
sketimine inhilation for treatment resistant bipolar depression
Have had couple Hundred ect... depression remains,, memory sux

January, 11 2015 at 1:39 am

The latest literature review by Bentall and Reid states ECT, which often causes permanent cognitive dysfunction and memory loss, "cannot be scientifically justified" as a "treatment". It causes brain damage and should not be offered as an "option" to sick, vulnerable people. Suggesting bilateral ECT as yet another "option"? Even more pronounced brain injuries? Great idea.
ECT creates organic brain syndrome and the minor euphoric state some people experience is not "depression lifting"; it is brain damage.
In this day and age, how can anyone advocate for this "procedure"?

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