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Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) May Have Changed My Life

April 23, 2012 Jack Smith

ECT, electroconvulsive therapy, worked for me. I was suffering horribly from treatment resistant depression, but ECT gave me relief. Read my ECT experience.

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.

APA Reference
Smith, J. (2012, April 23). Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) May Have Changed My Life, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, April 15 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/copingwithdepression/2012/04/ect-may-have-changed-my-life



Author: Jack Smith

Tina
August, 5 2017 at 10:06 pm

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.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Barb
November, 7 2017 at 6:25 am

Hi Tina! I’m considering having ECT. A little nervous.

Lynn
February, 4 2018 at 6:52 pm

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.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Liz
March, 10 2018 at 1:07 pm

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.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natasha Tracy
March, 12 2018 at 9:36 am

Hi Liz,
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

Nancy Klepacki
March, 29 2018 at 4:07 pm

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!

Nancy Klepacki
April, 10 2018 at 6:46 pm

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.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Lauren
September, 2 2019 at 11:27 am

Hi Nancy,
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.

Sean
April, 25 2018 at 2:09 pm

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.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natasha Tracy
April, 25 2018 at 7:40 pm

Hi Sean,
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

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Sean
April, 26 2018 at 12:11 pm

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.

Marilyn
October, 10 2018 at 1:14 am

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.

B.
November, 4 2018 at 8:20 pm

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.
Good luck!

Elizabeth
August, 6 2019 at 8:03 pm

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

August, 7 2019 at 2:20 pm

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.

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