ECT is proven to be a safe and effective treatment option for patients with acute mania, severe depression or mood disorders, when:

  • previous ECT has been effective
  • other treatments are ineffective
  • rapid response is necessary
ECT is an effective treatment for people with depression, mood disorders, and other psychiatric disorders including psychotic or manic symptoms. ECT may be indicated when a patient has not responded to other treatments, can’t tolerate the side effects of medications, or must improve quickly. Many patients see improvement within two or three weeks. ECT is very safe. Even pregnant women and those who have recently suffered heart attacks can be safely treated with ECT.
Before ECT treatments begin, the physician will fully explain the benefits and risks of ECT, and the patient will give consent. The patient is encouraged to ask questions and informed that consent for treatments can be withdrawn at any time and treatments will stop. After giving consent, the patient will receive a complete physical examination, including an electrocardiogram and blood tests. A series of ECTs usually consists of six to twelve treatments. ECT treatments can be administered to either patients inside the hospital, or on an outpatient basis. An intravenous (IV) drip is started and, through it, medications are given to induce sleep and relax the muscles of the body. Once these medications are working, an electrical stimulus is administered through electrodes placed on the head. The electrical stimulus produces brain wave (EEG) changes that are similar to a generalized seizure. It is believed that this seizure activity is what leads to the clinical improvement seen after a series of ECT treatments. About 30-minutes after the treatment, the patient will wake up and is soon oriented enough to eat breakfast and return home—if the treatments are being done in an outpatient setting—or to the Behavioral Health Unit if provided as an inpatient.
ECT stimulates the brain with a small amount of electrical current to produce a generalized seizure. This affects the brain centers that control mood. Researchers believe that ECT works by correcting the biological abnormalities that cause severe depression. To achieve positive results requires more than one treatment, however. After a course of six to twelve treatments, patients report feeling more like themselves and are able to work and lead productive lives. Sometimes family and care team members notice improvement even before the patient does.
Common side effects of ECT include: headache, muscle soreness, nausea and difficulties with short-term memory. After ECT your ability to learn and remember new information can be affected and usually returns to normal within a few weeks. ECT may cause memory problems which can take several months to resolve. A small number of people have reported longer-lasting memory problems. It is not clear what causes these problems and they infrequently show up on psychological tests.
In studies of people treated with ECT, 80% report that they were helped by the treatments. About 75% relate that getting ECT is no more frightening than going to the dentist.
ECT is intended to be followed by additional ECT or medication therapy. While ECT is very effective, if medications or ECT is not administered after a series of ECTs, there is a 50-80% relapse rate within 6-months.
No, there is little controversy among psychiatrists. ECT is recognized as a proven, safe and effective treatment option for those with appropriate symptoms. What opposition there is seems to come from anti-psychiatry groups or from negative media and film portrayals.
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