Shame and Electroconvulsive Therapy (Shock Therapy)
Due to my frequent flirtations with treatment-resistance over the years, I have discussed ECT with a variety of doctors. To the first doctor, and the one after, I said simply, “I would rather die than do that”. Well, as it turns out when faced with death, you’ll do a lot of things you didn’t think you would.
People are amazed shock therapy is still around. Well it is. And it’s still around for one fundamental reason: it gets people out of depression better than anything else.
Electroconvulsive therapy is barbaric. No, that’s not a misconception, that’s just how I feel about it. But it’s not as barbaric as you probably think it is.
- ECT is done under anesthesia, the patient feels nothing
- ECT is not used as a punishment
- ECT is almost always, always, always done with patient consent
- ECT is taken very seriously and is not a frontline treatment
- Very few doctors practice ECT due to the small number of people who get it
- ECT is a medical procedure and during treatment there is the doctor, an anesthesiologist and nurses all over the place
And in point of fact, during ECT I felt more cared for as a patient then during any other treatment before or since.
Immense Shame and ECT
I didn’t want to tell anyone I was getting ECT, that I was having it, or that I had it. In my brain ECT was absolutely the worst thing you could do to a person and even considering it made me feel a seriously bad, bad kind of crazy. What kind of horror show let’s someone electrocute them? How messed up am I that I would seek seizures?
I felt immense guilt and shame over it. I felt like anyone who found out would never see me the same way again.
(And, of course, it didn’t help that a friend abandoned me likely due to the stress of seeing me through part of the treatment.)
ECT is Barbaric
I said before that ECT is barbaric and I meant it. Medical professionals do everything in their power to make the experience as untraumatic as possible, but in the end, someone is still pouring volts of electricity into your brain.
But to be fair, many medical treatments are barbaric. Severe cases of epilepsy are treated with brain surgery that purposefully removes or segments parts of the brain. Chemotherapy is purposefully dumping poisons into your body that may kill you.
Medicine isn’t nice. Medicine isn’t pretty. Medicine is full of hard choices that people make when their back is up against the wall. I know most people reading this right now think they would never undergo ECT, but until you have been in extreme amounts of pain, you have no idea what you would do. Trust me.
There are many groups out there looking to ban ECT. They have their reasons, I won’t get into them, but in my opinion all these people do is further add stigma and shame to people who are choosing this treatment during the worst moments of their lives.
Shame and ECT
In the end, I had 9 ECT treatments and then stopped due to lack of response and appearance of deleterious cognitive effects. I was not part of the 60% - 70% that very favorably respond. Really, very crushing.
But all that shame over a medical treatment is misguided. That shame is an indication of how the rest of the world sees the treatment and not what it actually is. What it actually is, is a treatment you and your doctor feel is right for you. Which makes ECT like any other treatment.
There are certainly many negatives to consider prior to treatment, but there are also positives. The treatment might be right for you, it might not. But letting the stigma, the outdated views, the shame and other people’s judgment determine how you feel about the treatment is wrong. It’s about you getting better; it’s not about them.
Tracy, N. (2011, February 10). Shame and Electroconvulsive Therapy (Shock Therapy), HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, August 25 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2011/02/shame-and-electroconvulsive-therapy-shock-therapy
Author: Natasha Tracy
This is one area where I do feel that celebrity endorsements can help. I've heard Dick Cavette speak very candidly many times about about his on-going use of ECT and the positive effects for him. I just heard an interview this weekend with Carrie Fisher who explained the process (said put the "Cuckoo's Nest" image out of your head") and said that she is taken less medication as a result.
So, as you have made clear, If it works for you, great. if it doesn't work for you, don't do it again. If you are thinking about doing it - do your homework and give it careful consideration. And under no circumstances let anybody do it to you without your consent.
Accusing me of having brain damage and that brain damage de facto dictating my thoughts? How droll.
This is a clever way of writing off anyone who has had the treatment. I don't find that acceptable. Each opinion has merit, particularly those of the 100,000 people who had the treatment last year.
There is a misconception that doctors make a lot of money from this treatment. Please let me know of a reliable source that shows it is inordinately profitable. This treatment is actually _expensive_ for doctors to perform and here in Canada, the profit argument is moot anyway.
The history of the treatment is barbaric. Certainly. However we also used to perform surgery without anesthesia. History is full of barbarism.
You are welcome to to dislike ECT but the suggestion that doctors are cruel and money grubbing for offering it and patients are brain dead for allowing it is falderal.
I have written significantly on this topic. If you wish to see my views, many of which have citations, please see the following links. These links take you to my personal blog which is in no way affiliated with HealthyPlace:
Basic discussion of ECT: http://natashatracy.com/treatment/ect/electroconvulsive-therapy-works-ect-shock-therapy/
A personal experience with ECT (not mine): http://natashatracy.com/treatment/ect/myths-realities-journey-ect-bipolar-badger/
Discussion of ECT controversy with supporting citations http://natashatracy.com/treatment/ect/talk-electroconvulsive-therapy/
There are four groups of people who allow the continuation of this torture: 1)Those who are being highly rewarded (monetarily) for each "treatment." 2) Those who have suffered enough brain damage to alter their understanding that they do in fact have brain damage. 3) Victims who are too terrified and ashamed to speak out against it. 4) People who have no idea how cruel and damaging ECT is.
Ernest Hemingway is a perfect example of an ECT victim. After suffering depression he was administered two ECT sessions. He returned home, stuck a gun in his mouth, and shot himself. Those who say his suicide was only because he did not receive enough sessions to "recover" are mistaken. He received few enough treatments to recognize the damage it had caused his brain before frying it completely.
I sounds like Natasha may have turned her ECT into her warm and fuzzy. Not finding it with friends and family which is very common. But to make your ECT your warm and fuzzy is not a good thing. Her doctors should be smart enough and care enough about her to tell her that. Instead she's just part of a retirement plan, money in the bank. I care enough to say it's not a good thing.
The suicide rate is higher for those who chose to go to hospitals than those that do not. You can't see past your nose just like the profession. There is really something very wrong with you to side against her and proof how limiting ECT is.
An email from Elizabeth K. Ellis:
16 February 2011
Elizabeth K. Ellis: Electroshock Survivor To MindFreedom International Director, David W. Oaks:
As I informed you this afternoon, I am in danger of receiving more electroshock treatments from ANOKA (Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center - AMRTC) or any other state-operated facility in Minnesota.
I received through the mail a Notice of Intent to Revoke Provisional Discharge signed on 14 February 2011 by Kirstin Wegenast, LSW for Clay County, Minnesota, and an Order to Transport dated February 15th signed by the Judge.
I called Kirstin on the 14th. She was indifferent to my pleas.
My public defender, Peter Karlson, said the Sheriff could pick me up at any moment and transport me.
I visited with Peter this forenoon and after much consideration, he agreed to challenge the court on these decisions for hospitalization and continuing ECT. But he wanted a good backup plan.
We put together an affidavit which he will file tomorrow in which I agreed to medication, counseling, psychiatric visits and monitoring by the county.
I will be seeing psychiatrist Dr. Nels Langsten in St. Paul this weekend and I have a good counselor of my faith lined up.
I put in a call today to Janna Peterson but didn't get her. When she visited me earlier this month, she seemed very interested in my situation.
My daughter is for my continuing treatments.
My husband supports me.
As far as I am concerned, I am in good mental health -- active, talking, eating, sleeping. I see no reason for continuing ECT. The county says they are just trying to save my life.
I question whether it's not their face they are trying to save.
In appreciation for all you do.
Obviously I cannot comment on any individual case as I am neither her doctor or lawyer.
Given that, I will note from the court papers on your site:
Heard in court Nov. 19, 2010.
Ellis has schizoaffective disorder.
Throughout her hospitalization, she exhibited the following:
- catatonia, barely communicating with staff
- refused medication, food, liquids
- required hospitalization for dehydration
- further lack of food intake will result in deterioration of muscle
- Drs felt that death will occur in the next couple of months
ECT has been beneficial for Ellis in the past, treatment without ECT has not resulted in "significant improvement" in "condition and/or behavior"
Not given ECT, prognosis for returning to community is poor.
Ellis has a health directive indicating:
- refusal of ECT
- refusal of artificial feeding and hydration
- authorization of CPR, respirator, dialysis, and blood transfusions
The inconsistencies in the directive was one of the indicators that Drs took into account indicating her mental illness and her inability to make informed consent to ECT.
Ellis's daughter refused to sign her mother's directive due to her mother's illness and previous positive response to ECT. The daughter did not believe her mother was exercising proper, informed judgement.
I'm not sure I would rather have a mentally ill woman kill herself than receiving ECT. But that's me.
Thank-you for making that point so eloquently. I would love for there to be better options for people, but right now there just isn't.
You just can't throw it out and say that it's useless, when person after person has literally had their lives saved by this intervention.
I've seen the procedure a number of times and, if I were in a state of Catatonia and couldn't take care of myself, then I would applaud whoever did something that took me out of that bad situation.
For many, this is the ONLY thing that works. You can't throw out the baby with the bath water.
Did they look into what ways your parents were dysfunctional and how that effects you? How much group therapy have you had? And it's said ECT is a last resort. Did all these things come first?
Ask your therapist to define their job. That should be easy for them to do. I'm sure you will not get a straight answer. If you do get an answer I'm sure the description will not match what you have been getting. Ask why is that?
ECT is just a money machine for the system. Most people know all these things and the fact that the profession is full of sick and stupid people. Insiders have confirmed this to me. It's not like any other field of medicine. It's in a poor class all it's own. That's why most people feel ECT is just like giving guns to a kindergarten class to play with. A very bad idea. It's also forced and persuaded on many.
Yes, I make a comparison to oncology myself quite frequently. For some reason no one hate them.
Thanks for your comment. Without putting too fine a point on it, you've proven my point.
"Psychiatry is not a profession it is a freak show. The freaks are without the intention to be helpful."
Even for someone who dislikes ECT this isn't a reasoned or reasonable statement.
Psychiatry is like any other branch of medicine, it does the best it can, it makes mistakes and it's far from perfect. To suggest that psychiatrists don't want to help people is ridiculous, at best.
ECT is an extremely effective treatment and saves the lives of many. People don't generally like to talk about it, however, due to the stigma around the treatment.
Everyone has the right to make the treatment decision they choose, but it's attitudes like yours that keeps people from getting treatment at all.
In my biased opinion, I feel ECT is a last resort. I would be extremely reluctant to use it on anyone underage. The risks are just so great and there's too much about it we don't know.
But again, that's just my biased opinion. I hope you find other things that help your son.
Thank-you for your kind words and congratulations on finding your way. Sounds like you're trying to reach out to others now and that might help even more.
Well, I did say "almost" always. There are exceptions to every rule. I don't personally know of one, or a doctor who has done that, but yes, I'm sure they are out there.
I could write many stories of those whose lives were saved by ECT. In fact many who had no side effects. And many that would undergo it again.
But that isn't the point. The point is that this is a treatment, and like all treatments it is a risk vs. reward scenario, and there is no reason to attach a stigma to this treatment.
I've been reading your posts & feel an all too close understanding in everything. In my early 20's I was dianosed with everything but Bipolar, going untreated I suffered in confusion. But with the incredible persistance of my psychiatrist, I was diagnosed with Bipolar II rapid cycling. Many trials of medications later, and hospital stays nothing was working. It wasn't making it easier that I was off of work and feeling hopeless. ECT's were presented to me and I received 18 treatments. Slowly, after 7 years of this journey, I'm finding my place. My husband & I have learned so much about the illness & how to not let bipolar manage our lives. Although it does get tough at times, but so does everything. I started a facebook page, Break The Chains Of Mental Illness and a blog "I'm not crazy! I'm bipolar."...I have also wrote about my experiences with ECT. I want to use my experiences to get people to talk and break the stigma of mental illness and so far these pages have started to get the some silence to break! Your writing it truly great & look forward to reading more! ~Chantelle Child