Mental Health Blogs

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.

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.

ECT: When You’re Desperate, You’ll Try Anything

I had not been at 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.

Then 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.

ECT Side Effects I Experienced

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 and the treatment with several key 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 from 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.

This entry was posted in About Jack, Depression Symptoms, Depression Treatments, Living with Depression and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to ECT May Have Changed My Life

  1. colleen says:

    Dear Jack,

    So Happy you are feeling better. I have severe depression and have thought of having ECT.Please keep me posted on your recovery.

  2. Carol says:

    Thank you for this information! I have suffered on and off with depression for over 40 years. I have tried many medicines and at times I have considered ECT treatment. When you are so depressed and nothing seems to help, I think this option is worth thinking over. Thanks, and I’m glad you are doing better!

  3. Ann Graham says:

    Jack, I am glad you tried ECT and it helped you. My mother, who passed away at 84, two years ago had ECT starting back in the 1970s. What I remember of that was more like the movie Young Frankenstein. She was brave then, and I suspect, like many other people her age you saw at the clinic the ECT of today is not even remotely as scary or riddled with side effects as the early treatments were. That’s probably why you see so many older people game to do it.

    For my mother, who suffered from many bouts of depression from her 20′s on, ECT was a life saver. I think she had it in total about 5 times in her life. Her memory never suffered for long and what it did for her mood was well worth it. Take care, Ann

  4. Jo says:

    Awesome that you have shared this. I have been in Jack’s position a few times over. Stigma has prevented me from sharing with many folks. In total before the EC Treatments had to end when I wrapped my auto around a utility pole, I had 43 treatments. I had been receiving psychiatric care since June of 1980 and had repeatedly been hospitalized.

    My first 12 Electroconvulsive treatments were in-patient. The last 31 were out-patient and my mom drove me to and from all of these; about a 2 hour trek to and 2 hours back to my home. She also stayed with me 24-7 to keep me from killing myself, which I had attempted more than 2 dozen times. ECT did INDEED save my life. I also at the time of the first round of 12 treatments had dropped to a weight of 86 pounds and had been dealing with “bulimarexia” for more than 10 years. INDEED it did save my life. Then the Lord saved it for good in 1997… 6 years after the wreck. Nothing is normal or okay about the type of depression I suffered. Nothing is okay about the way I have been treated. But I am alive and now hope to share my story with others. Perhaps I can offer hope and some kind of help!

  5. Iris says:

    I also tried ECT during a time when my depression could not be lifted. I also was desperate. I felt better; the effects were subtle and happened over time. I had nine treatments over a period of 5 weeks. I would recommend the treatment to anyone who feels that they are really stuck.

    I did have loss of memory side effects which has caused some distress, however the fact that I felt better outweighed the side effects for me.

  6. Jon P. says:

    So glad you’re back and feeling better Jack!

  7. Margie Stowe says:

    Hey Jack,
    So happy for you! I am your friend Margie from Emory Hospital. Email me and I will tell you my story. ECT definitely works! Unfortunately I had to discontinue due to memory loss and my mentally demanding job. Look forward to hearing from you.
    Margie Stowe

  8. Cat says:

    Dear Jack – Happy you are feeling better and thank you for your assessment of ECT from a personal experience. I keep thinking with the high rate of relapse, why bother? But on the other hand, if I could just get 6 months of relief from this hell of depression that gets worse every year for me, it would be worth it. Maybe it would spring board me into having something work out with the right med even if I have a head start. I am someone who has suffered for a LONG time and have tried every med in the book. I also practice yoga at least 3-5 days a week for over an hour each time and guess what, not effective enough during this terrible depression I get into for all of Spring and half of summer every year without fail now. I’m tired. I’ve tried all the supplements, all the therapies, all the alternative treatments. And I did have ECT when I was 20 ( I am now 46) and they did help for a while and I was able to function much better but unfortunately, I also was that age and also had an easting disorder so I was unable to sustain any stabilizers in my life that I might have sought otherwise. As for ECT ruining my brain, I went on to get three different college degrees and was on the honor roll a few times. What is ruining my brain now, I believe, is either all the medications that never worked or the depression itself over time. So, thank you and I am glad you feel better.

  9. Annette Reyes says:

    I am going through a depression sometime now i had ect in the past and it worked im on meds but they arent working im thinking about going back for ect i been feeling depressed for like a year now its not a mayor depression but its a depression were i dont feel like doing anything i feel scared i have withdrawn from my family im stuck in my room i dont wanna go outside please tell me what you think

  10. Cattitude says:

    I know ECT helps some people, but for me it has been a nightmare. I had my treatments 9 months ago. They did nothing for my depression, but they did cause profound and severe memory loss. I say “profound” because I didn’t realize I’d lost anything until others told me or I noticed things in my life I couldn’t explain. Example: while getting the treatments 3 times a week for several weeks, I was staying with my boyfriend. When I got back home I noticed I had several fish tanks – which I had no memory of owning and had no idea why I had them. Sadly, most of the fish had died due to lack of care because I didn’t know they existed! Example #2: I totally forgot the existence of a therapist I’d been seeing regularly for 2 years. My bf mentioned her name and I had no idea who she was. I have no memories of the several months before the treatments, and have also lost random memories from the months after the treatments. Even now I discover “new” things that I had forgotten about. This goes to show that ECT can have very powerful effects on the human brain, beyond what it may do for depression. I think it’s overprescribed right now and that it should only be used as a last resort until its effects on the brain are better understood.

  11. sarah says:

    Hey, not meaning to be disrespectful to you about your story of recovery and how ECT “saved” you but three weeks is not anywhere near enough time to properly judge ect’s success or lack of. I feel very sad whenever people promote ECT as life saving. It makes it incredibly hard for people who have had negative horrific experiences and are trying to get it stopped and get other safer and more successful treatments started up. ECT may have been better for you than the alternatives you had on offer but that just means that the alternatives you weren’t any good. My sister was forced to have ECT. Court orders were made that went against my sisters, myself and my mothers wishes and it didn’t matter how much we protested we were ignored. ECT causes brain damage and unimaginable horror. It didn’t work and just caused trauma and distress yet no apologies were made just “ECT is wonderful” “ECT is life saving” “people tell us they want ect…” blah blah. Because people like yourself testify in public of how “brilliant” it is doctors continue to ignore evidence that it is damaging and that there are absolutely zero studies proving its long term effectiveness and feel justified in forcing it on people. ECT may help you to forget your problems for a little while and may cause a temporary sense of euphoria but it wont resolve any issues that are causing your depression. Relapse rates are so high because the issues aren’t dealt with and when memories that were lost return patients more often than not sink further into depression than they were before. This usually results in further “maintenance ECT” with no end date in sight…until they die of old age or they kill themselves (Ernest hemingway). I highly question the statistic quoted to you by the hospital staff member that 50% of patients never need another treatment….you wont find any evidence or studies backing that claim…the relapse rates for ect are huge! and “maintenance” is becoming more and more common.

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