Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) May Have Changed My Life
It has been nearly three weeks since my last of six ECT treatments. And I feel great! ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy) may be the most controversial treatment that exists for mental illness. In my case, it was severe depression that did not respond to antidepressants and talk therapy.
Why I Tried Electroconvulsive Therapy
The reason you have not read a blog from me in some time is that I sank into the deepest and darkest depression of my life earlier this spring. Desperate for help, I ended up in the hospital.
I had not been admitted for depression to Emory University Hospital very long when my doctors there first mentioned ECT as a possible treatment. I had heard of it when a family friend (who happens to be a brilliant psychiatrist) suggested it weeks before I was hospitalized.
I was so desperate for relief from the horrors of depression that I was open to it, despite the bad rap ECT gets on the Internet and in the media, most notably because of the film One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest.
The doctors gave me the appropriate warnings about the effects and side-effects of ECT: ECT can cause temporary confusion and even memory loss. They ran the appropriate tests and then made me sign all sorts of documents indicating I understood the risks and the side effects.
When I went in for my first treatment I wasn’t afraid, but I found it odd that no less than 90 percent of the patients awaiting ECT treatments at the clinic in Atlanta were senior citizens. Only one other patient I became friends with at the hospital was even close to my age.
They gave me a pill to prevent migraine headaches, which I get on occasion, and then administered the general anesthesia that quickly put me to sleep.
I awoke confused but quickly regained my usual alertness. That was only the first of six treatments, which were spaced out every other day over the course of two weeks.
I was released from the hospital about halfway through my ECT treatments, feeling better than when I had been admitted. I wasn’t allowed to return to work just yet, and it’s a good thing.
My Side-Effects of Electroconvulsive Therapy
I did endure some significant ECT problems. I couldn’t remember some things even before the ECT treatments had started and toward the end of the treatment, I was not as mentally sharp as normal. They didn’t let me drive a car for two weeks, which was probably wise because on one occasion, with a buddy driving me, I had trouble remembering directions to a destination I’d been to many times. It was a little disconcerting.
I soon returned to work and the first week back was challenging. If I had to use one word to describe how I felt, it would be foggy. Since I had been open about my depression with coworkers, I got by because they rallied to my side and even took on some of my workload.
My wife, who was an incredible supporter through the whole ordeal, kept telling me to be patient. She had read that it can take up to two weeks before you start feeling normal again after a round of ECT treatments. Turns out, that was dead on.
Thankful That ECT is Available
Some skeptics will tell you that the relapse rate is too high. Yet there is ample evidence that ECT has a high rate of success. Clinical evidence shows that for “uncomplicated” cases of severe depression, ECT results in “substantial improvement” in at least 80 percent of patients. Some do relapse. Others go back for “maintenance” ECT treatments. The gentleman who ran the ECT clinic where my treatments were done told me that 50 percent of the patients they see never need another treatment.
Could I relapse? Sure. Was it worth it even if I do? Absolutely. For me, at least, ECT was effective and provided almost immediate relief from severe symptoms of major depression.
Would I recommend it for others who struggle with major depression that has not responded to other treatment? It depends. In my view, it’s a very personal decision. I would at least suggest that you consider it as an option. It might change your life.
Smith, J. (2012, April 23). Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) May Have Changed My Life, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 21 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/copingwithdepression/2012/04/ect-may-have-changed-my-life
Author: Jack Smith
I'm very sorry to hear you are experiencing anhedonia. I know how hard that is, I have lived it (not due to ECT).
I would recommend you talk to a doctor (psychiatrist, ideally) about this immediately. It may or may not be a result of the ECT or the condition for which you had the ECT, but either way, anhedonia can be treated as a symptom of depression.
It does get better with treatment.
- Natasha Tracy
I know it’s a year later but I’d love to know how you’re doing. So far, I’ve had the same experience. I’ve had 8 treatments but only the last two have resulted in the worst anxiety and akathisia. I ran out of my anxiety medication early which landed me in a crisis clinic where they basically told me I’m a drug seeker and they wouldn’t help me. Thank god my p-doc resolved this when he finally called me back. In any case, I’m terrified of going back but I’ve fallen into a severe depression that has me unable to move at times. If my doctors were more responsive, I’d simply contact them when needed but it looks like the side effects will land me back in the hospital. Did you ever go back to ECT? I just don’t know what to do.
I've had ECT and I know how scary it is even to get a consultation. All I can say is meet with the best doctor you can, ask any questions you have (write them down ahead of time) and make sure they are answered, and then weigh the pros and the cons for you. There is no universal answer for who should try ECT but I can tell you that it is incredibly helpful to some.
- Natasha Tracy
- Breaking Bipolar Author
There was some short term memory loss noticed after each of the first 2 treatments, but it seemed to have resolved quickly with no further issue. It wasn't until about the 9th treatment that we started to notice some subtle positive changes in his mood/behavior, that only became more obvious by the 12th, and final, treatment.
I'm happy to say he successfully concluded his treatments December 2015 and has yet to need any maintenance treatments. My Husband denies noticing any residual deficits or adverse effects and would highly recommend to others.
This treatment has been a lifesaver for our family and I would encourage others to do their research and weigh the risk vs benefit for themselves.
I am so glad to hear that ECT worked for your mom. The benefits of it affect not only her, but your entire family.
Have a good day,
I don't think! I have a husband who has always be supported since my diagnosis of depression after having two children. I have no desires but I do not feel I want to commit suicide. I guess I have to see my psychiatrist again because I don't want to do ECT anymore when it does not work.
Hoping to get some relief!
Have had good results in the past.
Praying for same. Dave
I would NEVER recommend the use of ECT. The potential for permanent damage/loss is too great .... and incidentally, there has been no return of lost memory.
I am slave to medication, and now it doesn't work like it did. My doc said ECT will help.
Will I have this battle for the rest of my life?????
The point is, I'd love to share my story if it can help others to navigate this journey.
I doubt that I am still facing the side effects of that ETC. I cannot focus on anything for more than 10 minutes my brain gets tired and I feel my brain tissues got injured. This does not happen while I am thinking myself or writing down my thoughts. I face problems when I am trying to get information from outside world for example reading, listening.
It has not destroyed my life but made things slightly difficult.
There is conclusive proof that ect works by causing brain dammage. Its about time that this barbaric treatment is banned.
I must say I really related to almost everything you said. I think you were spot on in describing your situation. As it was truly honest and nonjudgmental. I love that you have great support, and most of all positive results from your treatments!
Today is September 4th 2014, and I began my ECT treatments on February 12th of this year. For 6 weeks I had treatments twice a week. Then for 8 weeks I had treatments once a week. Since then I have had treatments every two weeks. All of my treatments have been out patient, and just as you I was the only patient not a senior being treated.
I was not hesitant or scared when I began ECT. After trying medication after medication, outpatient group after group, and Therapist after Therapist...I WAS EXCITED TO START ECT!
About 4 or 5 treats ago I really started to notice positive changes. I do struggle though with extreme memory loss. Which gives terrible anxiety. I don't have great support system either, and that does not make recovery any easier.
All I know is I am doing these treatment to better myself, and I have to build myself up at the same time to completely change my life for the better.
I wish you well, and anyone else reading this and going through anything similar. Please feel free to contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org please put ECT treatment blog at the heading). I would to talk, or help anyone!
I wish everyone their contentment, peacefulness, and happiness :)