Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) is generally considered a last resort procedure for depressed patients. I did 24 procedures back in 2017 as I was “treatment resistant” and my Psychiatrist thought I could benefit from it. Treatment resistant means that the medications were not helping me and I was suicidally depressed.
ECT still gets a bad rap due to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but it is a stable, well-managed treatment option for depressed individuals. That is not to say it doesn’t have downsides. It most definitely does: you are shocking your brain and that can cause unintended changes to your personality and your way of thinking. Some people experience memory loss, though I personally did not.
Psychiatrists, if they are honest, will tell you that they are not 100% sure why it helps, but for some people it is a miraculous solution and thus it stays around. I recommend very highly that you research it thoroughly and only use a doctor who has a lot of experience with it.
What is it Like to Get Zapped?
You start your outpatient treatment day by not eating or drinking and then you show up at the hospital in a state that’s a mix of nervous and hopeful. The nurse will bring you back to get in a gown and lay on a gurney to wait your turn. You are wheeled back, hooked up to an IV for Fentanyl, attached to other monitoring equipment, and then put under for the approximately ten minute procedure. You may have a moment or two to talk to your Psychiatrist right before she gives the treatment, but the next thing you know you are waking up about 20-30 minutes later in the recovery room.
Your first few treatments leave your back sore, as though you did a good workout at the gym. Really, it is from all of the convulsing your body does in the ECT procedure. You get used to it and all you are typically left with in recovery is a headache and the overwhelming desire to sleep for the rest of the day. My regimen was Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for several weeks, then assess how it was going.
Does it Help?
This is what we all want to know and I all I can say is that I initially thought it helped me. I went back to work after about 15 treatments and coped with life for a few months. … And then I had a conversation with a family member send me on a downward spiral and my Psychiatrist recommended renewing the procedures. Since I felt a bit better the first time around, I decided to give it a go and I did another 9 rounds. I stopped at 9 because I did not feel any improvement.
In fact, I noticed that I was thinking differently. It was very subtle, but it felt like a layer of inhibitions was gone. I kind of had a ‘Screw It’ attitude that wasn’t always appropriate. I never did anything dangerous to myself or others, but I was certain I didn’t have that kind of thinking before the ECT. I’ve been hospitalized since these procedures for suicidal thoughts and the first thing the attending Psychiatrist wanted to do was ECT. I firmly said “No.” It is not a treatment option anymore for me, but I’ll leave it to others to see if they have success with it.