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 🙂