A few people have asked me to write about my experiences of having had ECT or Electro Convulsive Therapy. I don’t mind as I feel there are a lot of myths to dispel around this, in my humble opinion, amazing treatment.

Several things about ECT are controversial, one of the main things being no one is exactly sure how or why it works! It was explained to me in simplistic terms that if a computer crashed the first thing most of us would do would be to turn it off and back on, reboot it. If we think of our brain as a computer and with mental illness it ‘crashes’ then ECT reboots it. I liked that explanation, it makes it seem logical somehow.

Another reason it is controversial is it’s history, it was given against patients will, without consent in the past and was not monitored as closely as it is now. I firmly believe that the patient should give an informed choice for any treatment if they are able to and I include medication in that which is something I feel psychiatry is less good at (rant for another blog!).

When ECT was first suggested to me I was horrified, I thought it was something from the history books. Something I had heard of happening in the 1950’s but this was 2006! I was severely depressed with a decreasing ability to even care for myself without even thinking about my new born baby. I was suicidal and a considerable danger to myself, I was willing to try anything. The pleading but very tired look in my husbands eyes told me I needed to give this a go. I had six unilateral sessions and began to recover quite dramatically. The results were phenomenal, someone had indeed rebooted my brain.

The process itself is not an uncomfortable one, I used to walk along to the ECT suite twice each week with a nurse who stayed with me throughout. I would lie on the bed whilst the treatment nurses gave me ‘an NHS facial’ which is how they described preparing my head for the paddles used to conduct the shocks. I was then given anaesthetic and knew nothing more until I woke up in recovery. After the first treatment they knew my seizure threshold so it was even quicker and I was always given a muscle relaxant so although my brain had a seizure my body didn’t shake.

I have heard people describe ECT as inhumane and barbaric, they have obviously been fortunate enough never to have suffered severe depression as leaving me that was would have been barbaric and inhumane, ECT is neither of those things.

Having taken medication and experienced some vile side effects from it I am firmly of the opinion that I would have ECT again if it was clinically indicated. I did have ECT again in 2010/2011 in fact.

I had come off medication and my mood had declined to a level where again I was struggling to function. I did the right things and asked for help, only to be turned away. Eventually the depression developed to a severe point again and my husband pointed out to mental health services that I had written an advance statement when I was well asking that if I ever became that depressed again ECT would be my treatment of choice. They agreed that my mood was now too low for other intervention and that ECT was indicated however after first saying I could have it as an outpatient they changed their mind and I was admitted.

This episode I needed 16 bilateral sessions but again I did recover and although I did have some short term memory difficulties this time it would still be my preferred treatment it I became severely depressed again in the future.

I have written this blog to try and dispel some myths around ECT, I can understand how the general public have such strong feelings about this ‘inhumane’ and ‘barbaric’ treatment of giving the brain electric shocks however feel that a heart attack needing defibrillation is perfectly acceptable. How are they different?

The fear around ECT is shocking not the treatment 🙂

4 thoughts on “Shocking!

  1. Thankyou for this fascinating blog article, I’m currently doing a presentation on ECT for a uni project. I saw ECT when I had a placement on an elderly mental health assessment unit and found it amazing how much ECT can change someones life. We had one patient who was catatonic, so depressed he refused to eat, drink or speak and had no quality of life. After ECT he was a different person. From what I’ve seen ECT really is a life saver. Hope you are well, I’ve really enjoyed reading your other articles too 🙂


    • I’m very well thank you, about to qualify in August as a MH nurse. Feel free to share my blog with your fellow student nurses as it’s not something that is often spoken about after people have had it in a positive way. Good luck with your studies and keep spreading the positive word about ECT 🙂 x


  2. l had a course of ECT back in 2006. l had been admitted to hospital after gradually becoming more and more depressed resulting in an attempted suicide. On realizing my attempt had failed l had begun crying hysterically and was sedated; it was then decided to admit me on a voluntary basis. l don’t remember much of that time but apparently l have since been told by family and by staff at the hospital on other admissions that l didn’t say anything to anyone other than my husband for 3 weeks. With my husband l would only whisper into his ear in shortest possible words. He would take me for a bath and talk me into getting dressed – l just didn’t function.
    The Consultant tried several anti-depressants and l would start to speak, l would be discharged only to end up being persuaded to go back in within a few weeks. l was only functioning on a basic level.
    My lovely consultant then bought up the words ECT…. no not etc ECT l was still no wiser.?!
    In some ways i am now glad l was so ignorant of this as l had no preconceptions.
    He explained that our brains were wired and to think of lots of little stars with an electric wire going from each point of the star to the point of another star. A whole galaxy of stars all wired up together all doing a task to keep us moving, talking, thinking Functioning..
    When we get as ill as this its often because some of these stars have become disconnected and they are misfiring the information, – bits get missed.
    When you have ECT it is as strongest smile says a Reboot, but also helps all these wires reconnect and solder themselves back into place. It can often take several sessions for these to all get reconnected. Fair enough l thought makes sense to me. So l agreed anything was better than life as it was.
    The ward nurses would come along in to morning ask me to wear a gown, and climb on a ‘proper’ hospital bed and l would get wheeled along to the ECT suite in comfort. It was all within the same building of the mental health unit and many of the staff involved where also daily nurses on my ward – lots of familiar faces so not frightening. We would go into a quiet room, l would lie back and look up at the ceiling where someone had thoughtfully put some silk paintings of various scenes, a fairground, a beach, a ship on the sea, all sorts of relaxing pictures. l would be asked to look at them while ‘l felt a little prick and count to ten’. l never remembering getting passed 3 and feeling very relaxed looking at the pretty pictures. Next thing l would know would be getting up from my own normal bed in the dorm (4 per room) and feeling a little sleepy, a little bit of a headache which would go once id showered, dressed and ate.
    I had 6 sessions in all and it put me back on the road again. I was put on an antidepressant and got back on with life. l didn’t need an admission again for several years, which was when it was realized that l wasn’t clinically depressed as thought but actually had bipolar II and Bpd.
    The only after effect l experienced was some loss to my short term memory. it still isn’t quite as good as it had been before but only by about a max of 10% less id say.
    l would agree to this treatment again if asked it is so much better than suffering the side effects of many medications ( l say this with Feeling!! as i’m withdrawing from Venlafaxine at the moment – no fun at all)
    So despite all the horror stories around this treatment i would happily be first in the queue if that was what it took to get me on an even keel again.
    Over to you strongest smile xx


    • Thanks so much Sarah for Sharing that, I feel it’s so important to dispel the myth that this is a barbaric illness when as I said in my blog post the symptoms of the mental illness are far more barbaric than ECT is capable of being these days.
      I would never try to invalidate the experiences of those who has ECT forced upon them in the past, that is something psychiatry should always feel shame over but as a modern day treatment I am the same as you I’d have it in the future by choice if I was ever that unwell again. I am so glad it helped get you on an even keel and wish you the very best for a happy and healthy future. X


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