ECT helpful treatment with bad press

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), also commonly known as shock therapy, is an effective psychiatric treatment that is largely misunderstood and shrouded in controversy.

Treatment with ECT involves using electricity to induce seizures in patients and is usually used to treat severe depression that has not responded to other treatment methods.

Recent exposure in a celebrity book is raising awareness about this potentially life-saving treatment method. Kitty Dukakis, wife of former Massachusetts governor, Michael Dukakis, recently published a book about her experience with ECT and she is giving public appearances in the US to counter the treatment's negative image among the public.

Her book, Shock: The Healing Power of Electroconvulsive Therapy, was published this Spring by Penguin books and alternates between a narrative of her personal experience with the treatment and chapters written by a co-author who discusses the development of ECT and interviews specialists and other patients. An extensive bibliography, appendices and an accompanying video all combine to make this an informative read.

I find it heartening to see a woman using her public persona to help bring issues of mental health to the media forefront and continue to battle existing stigma about mental illness and its treatment.

ECT gained worldwide popularity as an effective treatment for depression in the 1940s and 1950s. Today it is one of the oldest treatments still in use and it still has the best track record for success.

Some patients require only one treatment to send their depression into full remission, while about half will experience only short term benefit from the treatment and will need maintenance therapy over time or follow up treatment with cognitive behaviour therapy and antidepressant medications.

Ms. Dukakis began receiving ECT in the 1990s after two decades of depression and says she needs maintenance therapy around every 10 months when she feels her depression returning.

The most compelling drawback to treatment with ECT is the side effects it can cause. For many patients, the treatment can cause some memory loss or confusion.

Typically, confusion clears up within a few hours, but memory loss can be permanent, but usually only involves the time period of a few weeks prior to treatment. Contrary to rumour and speculation, ECT does not cause brain damage.

Although it can be a legitimate and life-saving treatment option for some people, ECT is not for everyone. It is important to discuss all options with a trained mental health professional and learn about all potential benefits and risks associated with every form of treatment.

There is also a risk in not treating depression. As I have said in many columns, untreated mental illness takes a huge toll on us as individuals and as a society. Lost productivity and lowered quality of life are important factors, but untreated depression can also significantly diminish our health and can also cause premature death.

If you are depressed, speak with your doctor and get a referral to see a mental health professional. Get informed about all your options and don't give up until you are well.

 

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