Who Would Benefit From Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)?


images-6Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is the most controversial treatment in modern psychiatry. Many people envision “shock therapy” a violent procedure such as the one portrayed in the movie, “One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest.” Today, however, the treatment is safe and painless, although not totally without risk given the possibility of memory loss. Among the people who should consider ECT are the following:

1. Persons who are treatment resistant

ECT is by far the most effective treatment available for depression. It is often used on people who are “treatment resistant,” or who have not responded to any medications. People typically respond to medications 40 percent to 70 percent of the time, which may require several trials of different medications. Of those treatment-resistant persons, approximately 85 percent improve with ECT.

2. Persons who are suicidal or severely depressed

If a person is suicidal or severely depressed, ECT is appropriate to consider since most people feel better as fast as after the first or second treatment. Compare that to medications that can take up to 12 weeks to work. For that reason ETC is the first-line treatment in an emergency, when a person is suicidal, psychotic, not eating, or catatonic.

3. Persons who cannot tolerate medication side effects

ECT is considered for persons who cannot tolerate the side effects of medications, especially elderly and pregnant women. All the typical side effect of antidepressants – nausea, fatigue, headaches, tremors, dry mouth, drowsiness, agitation – are not associated with ECT.

Originally published on Sanity Break at Everyday Health.

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Therese Borchard
I am a writer and chaplain trying to live a simple life in Annapolis, Maryland.

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7 Responses
  1. Stephanie S.

    I’ve never posted before but feel very strongly about this topic. Three years ago my meds stopped being effective and my psychiatrist recommended ECT treatments to help “cure” me of my extremely severe depression since meds weren’t working. I met with the ECT psychiatrist and began the first of many treatments.

    Here is where I should’ve asked questions and done my research. ECT is not a one-shot deal. The procedure will need to be repeated in the future to maintain the benefits. Also, the treatment will not work for everybody.

    17 treatments later (yes,17) my psychiatrist told me I might as well stop going as I wasn’t feeling any improvement. Had he not told me to stop I would’ve kept going because it had to eventually work, right? Wrong!

    My depression was worse than ever. I was hospitalized, spent 2 months as at an out-patient facility and met with new psychiatrists who eventually told me I had treatment-resistant depression. Thank god they were wrong and I made the choice to keep going. Three years later I am under the care of a wonderful psychiatrist and on a combination of drugs that have helped me be productive and enjoy life once more.

    I’m sorry this post was so long. I guess I just want to warn people to do their research, ask questions and do NOT give up on yourself. You WILL get better, it’s just a question of when.

      1. Stephanie S.

        Thank you, Therese. You’ve been a great inspiration to me with your incredible posts and videos. You help me feel like I’m never alone. Your honesty about your Great Aunt has helped me talk about and deal with the suicide of my mother. I walked this year with Survivors of Suicide and want to promote better understanding and take the stigma away from this heart-breaking loss.

    1. Todd Reisinger

      Hi Stephanie. Thank You for sharing your story. I am basically going through hell with no relief from medications. I was thinking of trying ECT, but I will ask questions. I get worse with medications, so it is easy to lose hope that there help out there. I struggle with PTSD and OCD(obsessive thoughts) that pushed me into severe depression. It is a battle, to say the least. But thanks for your encouragement to those suffering. Mental illness is very cruel. And the stigma that still goes along with it.

      Thanks Stephanie. And great that you are doing better. I hope that will be me one day also.


  2. tim davey

    STEPHANIE: I have been going out of my mind trying to find an answer for my questions about ect and anxiety disorders. Although I have extreme depression and am also suicidal my anxiety is extreme. I have heard that ect does not work for anxiety and panic disorders, even making them worse. Any worse and I will kill myself. Benzos do not help anymore although they worked for years. I have tried all the ssri’s and had to stop because of increased anxiety (it seems I am not alone here). The only thing I have been taking is doxepin because it worked so well back in 1980. After trying 4 different others, they finally found something that helped. . Around the last half of 2014 the benzos stopped working and so did the doxepin. For the past 2 and a half years my life has been a living hell. Please let me know what you think….Thanks..Tim