Monday, January 25, 2010

Are You Shocked?

By Gariane Phillips Gunter, M.D.

I recently came across an interesting article in the Marie Claire magazine entitled, I Had Shock Therapy… And I’d Do It Again and thought we could talk about this type of therapy a bit. A special thank you to this woman for sharing her story with the world.

What is it? Electroconvulsive therapy also known as ECT, is a well-established psychiatric treatment in which seizures are electrically induced in anesthetized patients for therapeutic effect. Today, ECT is most often used as a treatment for severe major depression which has not responded to other treatment, and an estimated 1 million people worldwide receive ECT every year, usually in a course of 6–12 treatments administered 2 or 3 times a week.

Is ECT Effective? The 1999 U.S. Surgeon General's Report on Mental Health summarized psychiatric opinion at the time about the effectiveness of ECT. It stated that both clinical experience and published studies had determined ECT to be effective (with an average 60 to 70 percent remission rate) in the treatment of severe depression, some acute psychotic states, and mania. The report stated that ECT does not have a long-term protective effect against suicide and should be regarded as a short-term treatment for an acute episode of illness, to be followed by continuation therapy in the form of drug treatment or further ECT at weekly to monthly intervals.

What are the side effects? Aside from effects in the brain, the general physical risks of ECT are similar to those of brief general anesthesia. Immediately following treatment the most common effects are confusion and memory loss which usually disappears after a few hours.

Famous people who have undergone ECT

Kitty Dukakis, wife of former Massachusetts governor and 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis and author of Shock, a book chronicling her experiences with ECT.

Carrie Fisher, American actress and novelist. Fisher speaks at length of her experiences with ECT in her autobiography Wishful Drinking.

In my experience, I have come across many people who feel that ECT saved their lives as well as others who did not feel that it was effective. Careful discussion with a mental health professional can help you make the decision that is best for you. I wish you all a healthy and happy 2010.


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