This morning I had my second consecutive day of ECT, or electroconvulsive therapy. Many people I've encountered don't realize that "shock" therapy is still utilized today. While the idea of it may conjure up images of people strapped down to beds and shocked in mental hospitals, modern ECT is unlike the 1960's horror image it once was.
In its early days, ECT utilized higher voltage shocks without the patient even being anesthetized. It's early origins have created a stigma that persists to this day.
ECT is performed in cases of extreme or treatment-resistant depression, or in individuals who would likely be unable to tolerate some of the severe side effects of anti-depressants. Individuals with mania or extreme aggression are also candidates for ECT.
The typical process from admission to discharge is about 2 hours. An IV is placed in your arm. The anesthesiologist does a brief check up with you. When the doctor is ready to begin, a face mask is used to deliver the anesthesia. In my case, an additional substance is put in my IV. This is known as ketamine or "Special K." This drug is of the same class as the street drug PCP and can be used purely for anesthesia or as an add on. Electrodes are placed on your head, behind your ears, and on your chest. A brief seizure is induced.
There are several drawbacks to ECT. Memory loss can occur but is usually temporary. The memory effects tend to be more severe with increased age. Treatments are also given very early in the morning (with mine being at 5AM), because patients must have empty stomachs to avoid vomiting. Extreme fatigue last for several hours up to a day after treatment. The average cost per treatment is $800, with most decent insurances covering 80%. The number of treatments a patient will require is unknown and many insurance companies will start with a limit that you must fight in order to get more. However, ECT has the best success rate of all the treatments for cases of severe depression.
Modern ECT is much safer and less scary than its early days. If you have experienced extended depression, mania, manic-depression, or aggressive tendencies and have not responded well to treatments, I implore you to research ECT. It may change your life.
Did you know that shock therapy was still a current practice? Would you consider this as an option if you had a medical condition that it could help?