Electroconvulsive Therapy: An Overlooked but Successful Treatment Method

Electroconvulsive Therapy | Parent Treatment Advocates

It’s true that electroconvulsive therapy has received a poor reputation, for good reason. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) formerly known as electroshock, gained widespread popularity among psychiatrists in the 1940’s and 1960’s. However, it appeared to be a crude form of treatment, producing horrifying muscle jolts, crackling noises, and pain.

Since then, this form of therapy has evolved. Today, it is done under anesthesia and considered to be one of the safer methods to treat severe cases of depression, Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, and other forms of mental illness, particularly mood disorders.

ECT is used when medication for whatever reason is not effective. In some cases, patients are so depressed that they cannot wait for the medication to take effect; an alternative for them is ECT. Although ECT seems to be used as a last resort method, likely due to its lingering bad reputation, it is a safe and effective method for treating mental illnesses.

One of the advantages of ECT is its immediacy in effectiveness. It typically requires two or three sessions per week for approximately two to four weeks for full treatment. For the most part ECT is now considered to be a safe intervention method; however, the anesthesia used with it can pose a problem for those who have major health problems such a heart or lung disease.

Patients who have undergone ECT might feel groggy upon waking, along with experiencing confusion and some pain in the jaw. For those patients whose confusion is long lasting, treatment is adjusted to minimize this side effect, or it is discontinued altogether. However, once treatment is complete, depression may not return for months.

ECT is often used to treat unipolar and teen bipolar disorder. Unipolar depression is characterized by the experience of depression, and clinically often diagnosed as Major Depressive Disorder. On the other hand, bipolar depression is accompanied by the experience of mania or hypomania. There are various forms of bipolar disorder; however, in general, bipolar indicates the swing of moods between low feelings, depression, and high feelings, such as euphoria or mania.

In 2012, a study was conducted to measure the effectiveness of ECT in treating these two disorders. Although patients of both disorders responded differently to other medical treatments, both groups responded well to the treatment of ECT. The overall remission rate for unipolar depression patients was 51.5% while the remission rate for bipolar depression patients was 50.9%.

Although there continues to be resistance to the use of ECT in the mental health field, on the whole it is now recognized as a safe and effective means to treat most mood disorders as well as psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia.

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