Electroconvulsive Therapy (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.
Why I Tried Electroconvulsive 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.
I had not been admitted for depression to 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.
When 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.
My Side-Effects of Electroconvulsive Therapy
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 with 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 with 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.
Smith, J. (2012, April 23). Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) May Have Changed My Life, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, November 27 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/copingwithdepression/2012/04/ect-may-have-changed-my-life
Author: Jack Smith
My son has 5 etc treatments 6 months ago. After years of medication resistance to drugs, countless hospitalizations for depression. He has gotten so much worse and now has crippling anxiety nd depression, he cannot work and may lose his job. He says his brain hurts when he tries to think. This is devastating to us. Any suggestions
Hello, Elizabeth, I'm Jennifer, the current co-author of the Coping With Depression blog. I'm sorry your son is going through this. My suggestion is to speak with his doctor about the issues he continues to have. I hope things improve.
Hey Jack! Thanks for posting this! Your first sentance caught my eye. You knew how long it had been since your ECT and how many sessions you had! :-) ECT saved my life and I am definitely glad I had it but I can't, for the life of me tell you when or how many sessions I had. That part of my life it totally gone (Thank God!). I am rebuilding my life and can now remember many things and work. I know it has been at least 8 years ago that I had ECT. It has been a great rediscovery of life without the horrid depression (plus some good meds and therapy). I am glad they have found ways to minimize the memory loss- but I think that is what helped me the most. I got to start over.
I also have had ect, when no drugs worked. I was like a zombie my depression was so bad. No drugs worked. In the end I bit the bullet and had 12 bouts of ect over a period of 6 weeks that was 5 years ago. Yes I did have trouble with memory but what the heck I felt so much better. If need be I would have it again.
i have had ect and it had left me with server anhedonia. I can hardly type this. I have no feelings and it is hard to talk to people now. I have trouble finding what to say. Its hard to think. I also feel apathetic about everything. I don't know what the solution is. Any suggestions are welcome.
I'm very sorry to hear you are experiencing anhedonia. I know how hard that is, I have lived it (not due to ECT).
I would recommend you talk to a doctor (psychiatrist, ideally) about this immediately. It may or may not be a result of the ECT or the condition for which you had the ECT, but either way, anhedonia can be treated as a symptom of depression.
It does get better with treatment.
- Natasha Tracy
Thank you for your reply Natasha, I will speak to my psychiatrist tomorrow about this. I'm glad to hear it does get better with treatment.
I made it through seven treatments and had to stop. My last two, both of which were bilateral, ended up causing horrific insomnia and the first bouts of anxiety attacks I’ve ever experienced- literally out of nowhere. I’d read that anxiety could be a side effect. My psychiatrist was very understanding with my decision and he advised that with some people, anxiety can develop. I apparently had not a clue about anxiety- it was a nightmare. It has been four days since my last ECT and at this point I have no plan to re-try. The depression is some better but I do feel very foggy, confused and tired. I’m glad I had the experience but it is not for me.
I know it’s a year later but I’d love to know how you’re doing. So far, I’ve had the same experience. I’ve had 8 treatments but only the last two have resulted in the worst anxiety and akathisia. I ran out of my anxiety medication early which landed me in a crisis clinic where they basically told me I’m a drug seeker and they wouldn’t help me. Thank god my p-doc resolved this when he finally called me back. In any case, I’m terrified of going back but I’ve fallen into a severe depression that has me unable to move at times. If my doctors were more responsive, I’d simply contact them when needed but it looks like the side effects will land me back in the hospital. Did you ever go back to ECT? I just don’t know what to do.
I Just Finished My Fourth Treatment - The first three left no marked side effects but they used the “bilateral” method on my this last time. For anyone dreading the procedure, it really is painless. I usually wake with a moderate headache, easily dealt with use of aspirin. I have been recurrently, severely depressed since childhood. I’m now a fifty eight year-old single female who has not responded positively to talk/medication(s). Right now - yesterday was #4 - I’m a bit confused. The day after the procedures I’m usually quite tired. I’m not inpatient- my brother has been taking me to UNC. I would encourage anyone with severely resistant depression to consider this. I can’t address bipolar issues because I’m not bi polar but I’m willing to give this the full course. Thanks to all who have contributed here - it means a lot and yes, I’ll keep posting updates!
I'm glad you had success with your treatments! I had some in 2014. 8 rounds. I still don't feel right. ? Maybe different for since I'm bipolar.
I'm 31. I have Bipolar 2 and I've been in the deepest scariest depression for embarrassingly .. a few years. Tried countless meds. I go for s consultation next week. I'm so nervous but beyond desperate.
I've had ECT and I know how scary it is even to get a consultation. All I can say is meet with the best doctor you can, ask any questions you have (write them down ahead of time) and make sure they are answered, and then weigh the pros and the cons for you. There is no universal answer for who should try ECT but I can tell you that it is incredibly helpful to some.
- Natasha Tracy
- Breaking Bipolar Author
I have had my first 6 rounds of ect treatments. I am starting to feel some positive changes but not enough to really gain the benefit. I have had ECT once before. I had only 6 treatments because my insurance was cut off due to an error. I was supposed to have between 9&12. I have thought about discontinuing the treatments but I am afraid I will be stopping prematurely. It's a personal choice for everyone that nobody should feel ashamed of. That's what I need to keep telling myself. This is going to help me, not hurt me. I do have memory loss and I know that will resolve once my treatments are over. I just need to pray.
Hi Tina! I’m considering having ECT. A little nervous.
Wow I feel like I have been reading about myself. I have just completed an index series of 12 and like many others hit a high about 6 and then just crashed after that. I now have extreme anxiety trying to recover from the memory loss and the thought of going back for maintenance terrifies me.
I can totally relate!! It's like I was robbed of my life! I HAD to do them to leave the hospital. ???
My Husband is 67 and has battled with PTSD, for nearly 40 years, along with recurring episodes of moderate-severe depression with suicidal ideations. Approximately 3 years ago we were frantically looking for help as my Husband sank into a deep depressive state, with nearly daily talk of suicide, that seemed unaffected by medication. We came upon ECT while doing our own research and followed up with his Provider, who referred us on. After multiple consultations, he was cleared for the treatment and opted to move forward, having 12 treatments over 6 weeks.
There was some short term memory loss noticed after each of the first 2 treatments, but it seemed to have resolved quickly with no further issue. It wasn't until about the 9th treatment that we started to notice some subtle positive changes in his mood/behavior, that only became more obvious by the 12th, and final, treatment.
I'm happy to say he successfully concluded his treatments December 2015 and has yet to need any maintenance treatments. My Husband denies noticing any residual deficits or adverse effects and would highly recommend to others.
This treatment has been a lifesaver for our family and I would encourage others to do their research and weigh the risk vs benefit for themselves.
Thank you so much for the positive feedback. I am hopeful I will get good results. I just completed my 2nd treatment. So far no memory loss and only mild side effects - some jaw pain, tenderness where the leads were placed on my head, and sore throat. My doctors are giving me unilateral treatment which spares memory loss. Hoping this works - if not they will have to try bilateral treatment. I am praying this therapy will relieve my severe depression. I’m encouraged by your husbands results.
I am about 3 weeks away from my last of 12 ECT treatments. I was better at first, but the last 3 weeks I have sunk so low in depression. This is the most depressed I've been in my life. I lost my leg a year ago in a accident. That was a piece of cake compared to this depression.
My mom had the worst type of schizophrenia there is ...he got ECT, and I cannot believe it. It changed our life, she is almost the same person she was before the sickness...
I am so glad to hear that ECT worked for your mom. The benefits of it affect not only her, but your entire family.
Have a good day,
I am getting ect bilaterally for anhedonia. I think I have scizophrenia. Did ect help your mum with anhedonia? If so, how much and how many sessions did it take to see a real difference? Thanks.
My husband just had 14 ECT, and he feels he is worse, as all his emotions have come back where before he was very flat, he seemed fine up until his last I'd say about 4 not sure if I would recommend this, but it is entirely up to the individual, I just wish it would get better.
I had 10 ECT treatments and I felt great after my 6th and I was released from the hospital and being treated for ECT be-weekly and now I feel my depression is coming back. I do my housekeeping chores, I start working part-time again but my negative thoughts are back again. I am still taking anti depressants but most of the evening I just want to sleep so
I don't think! I have a husband who has always be supported since my diagnosis of depression after having two children. I have no desires but I do not feel I want to commit suicide. I guess I have to see my psychiatrist again because I don't want to do ECT anymore when it does not work.
Hi everyone. I came across this thread looking for anyone that could answer some questions for me. Maybe someone can? I don't know. I'm feeling really hopeless. I had 8 rounds of ECT recently for severe depression and it worked wonders at first. It's been about a week since my last and I was doing so well, better than any medication that I've ever tried and now just the last few days, I'm descending back into my depressed state. I don't know what to do. I can't find any information on anyone relapsing so quickly......any advice or help would be truly appreciated!!!!! Thank you!
hi there, I am currently undergoing ECT. Have completed 8 of scheduled 12 treatments with possible maintenance after regular course.
Hoping to get some relief!
Have had good results in the past.
Praying for same. Dave
My husand had his 13th ECT treatment this morning and I'm afraid that it's not working. He says he doesn't feel any different still feels depressed and he gets really bad nightmares in that short period of a time that he's asleep for the treatment. Is this pretty common? I know everyone's different and for some it can take a couple to feel a difference or it can take a lot of treatments. I'm just hoping for that one day that he wakes up and everything is ok. He attempted suicide January 19th and I wa really hoping this was the solution as he's been on medication after medication and behavioral health facilities. Any feedback would be appreciated. Thanks!
It is now almost 5 years since my last ECT treatment. Over the course of about 6 months I had several dozen treatments. This was not my first experience with ECT but it was my last. I lost some 30 years of memory and beyond that my memories are very sketchy. Probably the worst loss was that of my self identity. I did not know what to do with the clothing in my closet. It felt like it belonged to someone else. My house did not feel like mine. And I did not recognize friends, never mind remember their names. I also was left with paralyzing anxiety. About 2 years after my last treatment ( when I began to realize the extent of my memory loss I ended the treatments) my husband found a clinical psychologist who uses among other therapies, Mindfulness. He took me on at a place of my being barely able to function and severely depressed and has patiently listened and taught me skills to live with myself. It has been life changing. But I remain quite disabled. I will unlikely ever be able to work
I would NEVER recommend the use of ECT. The potential for permanent damage/loss is too great .... and incidentally, there has been no return of lost memory.
Hi Will. My name is Nicole. I don't know if it works and I don't know if depression is something we are stuck with for the rest of our lives? I'm wondering just like you are. Some of these comments are scaring me- extreme memory loss and inability to do normal everyday things..... Scary. But maybe we just need to have hope that it will work and we will feel some relief. Anyways- to everyone reading this- just know that you are not alone and maybe, just maybe, there is hope.
I am considering ECT.
I am slave to medication, and now it doesn't work like it did. My doc said ECT will help.
Will I have this battle for the rest of my life?????
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Shelley, most likely, the cause of your muscle soreness is one of the anesthetic drugs given to you during the procedure. The drug is called Succinylcholine, and severe muscle pain is a well known side effect of this medication. I have experienced the same effect many times. The funny thing is that it doesn't always cause the muscle pain every time it's used, and one of the reasons they continue to use it in spite of this untoward reaction is that for a short procedure like ECT, it is one of the best drugs they can use. Hopefully next time you won't experience the discomfort. Good luck with your ECT treatments.
I started ect Monday woke up Tuesday and I'm. In so much pain is this normal all my muscles are sore I'm in so much pain and have another session on Thursday why does it hurt so much can anyone plz help me
I've had 6 of 12 ECT's and will have my 7 tomorrow. Desperate for relief, I agreed to try it. Like my knee replacement that I waited two years before deciding to "Just Do It", I did ECT and I am having great results. I am asking myself why I waited so long? I'm feeling like I used to. I was told I am a good candidate in that I've had few side-effects outside some muscle aches and neck discomfort in the very beginning. I delayed because of the images in the movie "One Flew Over The Cookoo's Nest" and "The Snake Pit" but modern ECT is nothing... nothing, like what I've seen in those movies. I go to sleep, ECT is administered, I wake up. I give it two thumbs up and wish I hadn't waited so long to finally just do it.
ECT has saved my life. After 100 or so treatments, I've started a blog (www.myelectricmind.com) to share my experience with ECT and mental illness. I'd love it if you'd stop by. Be well.
ECT is a last resort. If you are nonfunctoning, numb, isolated, and suicidal, ECT is an option. It is not to be thought of as 'just another treatment.' In fact, I only agreed to it thinking 'This isn't going to work, but maybe I will be lucky and not wake up after one of these treatments; I have 8 or more chances here (I had 8 sessions scheduled).' Your depression has to be THAT bad. If you are ready to die, it's time for ECT. What happened to me? It worked; I felt much better after about 6 treatments.
After an attempted suicide on Dec. 31 and then falling into catatonic depression soon after, my sister began receiving ECT while in a facility. She was released two weeks ago (insurance decided to quit paying), and she has had one treatment since then. She cannot be left alone at all and we are desperately struggling to care for her. She was supposed to go to a skilled nursing facility, but none will take her. She doesn't know right from wrong and has no logical reasoning skills. For instance, she has put towels in the stove, can't properly dress herself, can't get to the restroom on time sometimes, has no sense of time, poured a jar of okra into my Dr. Pepper, tried to climb out of a moving vehicle, can't perform ANY typical household duties. She HAS relearned how to take a shower and apply her own makeup. The list is endless. She is suffering from extreme anxiety, sleeplessness, etc... She is on 10 different medications for anxiety, depression, sleeping, etc.. We are desperate for help know how to cope and continue getting her help. We assume her anxiety will subside when her memory improves, but we have no clue how long this will take. She will have her thirteenth treatment next week and then another two weeks later. Can ANYONE with experience in care tell us how long it will take for her memory to improve or ANYTHING we can do to help her. She is extremely combative at times. ANY advice would be great.
I am currently going through ect and for a while it worked now all of a sudden the past two treatments have not I am at the end of my rope with everything and don't know where else to turn is there anyone experiencing the same thing?
Hi- I'm writing a magazine article on ECT and would love to speak by phone with someone who's gone through ECT- would anyone be interested in anonymously sharing their story?
Hi, I'm on the cusp of beginning ECT for the first time. It's been quite incredible to me how difficult it has been to get to this point and still do not have a treatment date set up. This is in spite of all caregivers, family and medical personnel being on the same page. I even went as far as to go through the ER getting myself admitted to an inpatient facility.
The point is, I'd love to share my story if it can help others to navigate this journey.
I can't say ECT "saved" my life, but it has prolonged my existence. I have had 275 ECT and after 273 I went back to college and graduated with honors. That really doesn't matter though because there is no replacement for the decades of memory lost and the increasing rate of relapse. It comes down to choice, do you want to die or "exist", there is a definite difference between living and existing.
I was given ECT when I was 20 years old and now I am 29 years old. Unfortunately, I did not know the difference between a counselor and a psychiatrist. I was facing some problems, but my life/educations was going on fine. Instead of a counsellor I went to a psychiatrist and in one minutes he decided to give me some medicines. After I started taking medicines my brain completely slowed down and two days latter I fell down on my back while walking and my head hit the road after that all I remember is my parents telling me that I have been sick for 20 days and I was given ETC by the same psychiatrist.
I doubt that I am still facing the side effects of that ETC. I cannot focus on anything for more than 10 minutes my brain gets tired and I feel my brain tissues got injured. This does not happen while I am thinking myself or writing down my thoughts. I face problems when I am trying to get information from outside world for example reading, listening.
It has not destroyed my life but made things slightly difficult.
I too had ect. It did save my life, but at a high cost. Now have permanent short term memory loss. I have to write everything down. I have some long term memory loss. My last treatment was over 2 tears ago. I am upset over this because they said tempory memory loss. Now to the good parts I was deeply depressed. Nothing work especially medications. I really had no choice on the matter. It was between life and death. I was doing maintenance but quit because of the O2 mask and memory loss. It did help me, because when I get severly depressed I can use my coping skills. Before I couldn't. People should be aware of the possibility of permanent memory loss. It effects you when you want to learn. Now I call myself dumb.
I have had ECT many times before but never went the full sessions this time I did (three times a week for six weeks) I have notice significant changes,such as I was never a tidy person I will go as far as saying downright messy house just cluttered and had no interest in sex or intimacy. I was molested from the age of three til I was 13 YO. since having the full course of treatment I now wake up at 5 am make my hubbys lunch for work, clean my house like a mad woman and the need for intimacy has come back to me I am able to handle stressful situations 10 times better. I wonder if this is all because of the ECT treatments I have looked and tried to find places online that could clarify the fact that this all could be positive results from the ECT. I feel that this is the only explanation for the new interest in all of these new positive things that are happening. So my question is has anyone experienced any improvement that mimics this?
Anyone considering ect should read this http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-peter-breggin/electroshock-treatment_b_1373619.html
There is conclusive proof that ect works by causing brain dammage. Its about time that this barbaric treatment is banned.
What about hypnosis and EFT has anyone tried these?
If you're reading this thread, as I was, and were frightened by the comments Sarah left, I encourage you to do your own research. Although there are instances when people have more trouble with side effects, the statements she made about ect causing brain damage and no conclusive studies existing are completely and blatantly false. I'm a patient and a degreed social science researcher and I have read the studies, findings, and ongoing research thoroughly. There is zero evidence of brain damage caused by ect. In fact, studies have shown areas of further brain development in animal studies. This treatment is a serious decision for any of us, but there is plenty of reliably sourced information available online. Take the time to read it. I cannot comment on the legal situation outside of the United States, however, here you cannot be forced against your will to undergo this procedure. Message boards can be helpful for sharing experiences, but keep in mind comments like the one I referenced cannot be trusted for medical or legal accuracy. Likewise, do not take my comment as gospel. Please do your due diligence and be comfortable that you are adequately informed of the risks involved with this or any other treatment option available to you.
Kristen, I just had my 2nd ECT treatment today. I am very hopeful this will help me. I’ve had episodes of depression since my early 20s. I am now 68. I’ve been in therapy for a number of years and have been on a lot of different antidepressants. Most worked for a while. 4 years ago my depression became really severe after the death of my aunt who was like a mother to me and my best friend. I am still having a hard time getting beyond the grief which has worsened my depression. After reading the comments before yours I was starting to question my decision to proceed with ECT. Thank you so much for your positive comments. I need to continue treatments as nothing else has helped in the past 4 years. I have done a lot of research - online - and until I came across this thread I was feeling good about my decision to proceed. Thank you so much for your information - I feel hopeful again.
Hi, I am currently undergoing ECT, and I stumbled upon this looking for some sort of blog where I might be able to talk with others going through the same circumstances as I am.
I must say I really related to almost everything you said. I think you were spot on in describing your situation. As it was truly honest and nonjudgmental. I love that you have great support, and most of all positive results from your treatments!
Today is September 4th 2014, and I began my ECT treatments on February 12th of this year. For 6 weeks I had treatments twice a week. Then for 8 weeks I had treatments once a week. Since then I have had treatments every two weeks. All of my treatments have been out patient, and just as you I was the only patient not a senior being treated.
I was not hesitant or scared when I began ECT. After trying medication after medication, outpatient group after group, and Therapist after Therapist...I WAS EXCITED TO START ECT!
About 4 or 5 treats ago I really started to notice positive changes. I do struggle though with extreme memory loss. Which gives terrible anxiety. I don't have great support system either, and that does not make recovery any easier.
All I know is I am doing these treatment to better myself, and I have to build myself up at the same time to completely change my life for the better.
I wish you well, and anyone else reading this and going through anything similar. Please feel free to contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org please put ECT treatment blog at the heading). I would to talk, or help anyone!
I wish everyone their contentment, peacefulness, and happiness :)