Judging Those Who Get Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

Saturday, after sharing the story of someone who had been through electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). someone named Michele Montour left me this series of tweets (shortened words lengthened to improve readability):

Nothing will ever convince me that this barbaric, antiquated butchery is proper treatment. We know almost nada about the brain. Scientists admit very little known about our brain – even diagnoses are guessed. But zapping it and not REALLY knowing and irreversible!? I think ECT treats us like animals. Repackaged to remove ITS stigma. Let’s just go to the ice-pick lobotomy again! #disgusted

To this, I, admittedly shortly, responded:

That’s a convenient perspective when you’re not dying.

Well, Michele Montour did not like this response and it led to a bit of a diatribe on her part wherein she, among other things, called me a stupid and ignorant bitch.

I thought, perhaps, this stupid bitch could take a moment to explain her opinion.

[Note: I am running a survey on real patients’ experiences with, and perspectives on, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). If you’ve had ECT and want your voice heard, please take the survey here. More detailed information on the ECT survey can be found here.]

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

Electroconvulsive therapy is, for those who don’t know, the new incarnation of shock therapy (called electroshock therapy in some places). During electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) patients are put under a general anaesthetic and a paralytic and then an electrical current is run through their brain. This induces a short (less than 60 second) seizure (but without the physical movement due to the paralytic) and the person wakes up from the short-acting anaesthetic a short time thereafter. The whole thing takes half an hour on the outside. People typically receive between nine and twelve treatments in the initial series. (See also, How Does Electroconvulsive Therapy Work.)

Electroconvulsive therapy is about 80% effective on depression in both unipolar and bipolar depression, however, the most common bothersome side effect is that some memory is lost for the time around the treatment.

My Old Opinion on Electroconvulsive Therapy

Years ago, when severely depressed and suicidal, I told people, and I was absolutely serious, that I would rather die than let some barbaric quack run electrical current through my brain. It’s not that I thought it didn’t work (although I wasn’t particularly educated on the matter) I just wanted to have nothing to do with it. My brain was too precious to me.

My Later Opinion on Electroconvulsive Therapy

Later though, after running out of treatment options and wanting to die, I changed my opinion – at least a little. While I still felt it was barbaric and mostly insane, I recognized that I needed to try it for my own recovery.

In other words, my own situation got desperate enough and I really did prefer life, even an electrocuted one, over death.

Judging Those Who Choose Electroconvulsive Therapy

Judging Electroconvulsive TherapyAnd many people have judged me for that choice suggesting that I stick a fork in a light socket and worse. But this is ridiculous, closed-minded and hateful. No one has any right to judge another person’s treatment – ECT or otherwise – until they have spent time in their brain. Until they have spent time in their pain. No matter how bad your condition has gotten and no matter how much pain you think you’re in, if there’s one thing I have learned, it’s that it can always get worse. And the person facing ECT is usually at worse. Usually at worse and with fewer options than you can understand.

Judging Electroconvulsive Therapy

So if you feel self-righteous and if you feel that your opinion is warranted over those of us who have extensively studied the treatment, tried the treatment and know many who have had the treatment, that’s your business. But, at the very least, can you have the courtesy to admit that your opinion is the one that is right for you and not tar and feather the over 100,000 people who get ECT annually in the US?

Because until you do, all you’re doing is spreading hatred and judging people you fundamentally do not understand, whose pain you do not understand. All you’re doing is kicking people while they are so far down they cannot see the light. And is that who you really want to be?

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About Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is an award-winning writer, speaker and consultant from the Pacific Northwest. She has been living with bipolar disorder for 18 years and has written more than 1000 articles on the subject.

Natasha’s New Book

Find more of Natasha’s work in her new book: Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. Media inquiries can be emailed here.

  1. ECT was a life saver and life giver. I have never had any cognitive or memory issues. I have had a few horror stories involving psychiatric medications. It is different for everyone. Positive or negative. However, when I was researching ECT before my first treatment, all I found were the negatives. It terrified me. It was hard to come by anything involving a good experience. I was prepared for the very worst. It makes me so happy to see other people who have had positive outcomes with ECT and continue to with maintenance like myself. I don’t know if I would be alive had I not had it and I would not continue to be able to live if it was no longer an option for me. It is honestly a pleasant experience for me. It’s a drag to get an iv and peeing in cups. It’s a little weird being rolled into a tiny room and having gel smeared on your temples and top of the head. I get more nervous going to the dentist personally. Basically I go to sleep, wake up without even realizing that it had already happened. I get some apple juice and i’m on my way all within 2 hours.

  2. I’m so sorry. People are so uninformed and so very cruel. Do people not realize that so many of us are on anti-seizure meds, and that maybe inducing a seizure could give the brain what it needs to jumpstart out of terminal depression? I have discussed this option with my doctors several times. It’s never off the table if my depression gets terminal again. Great article, Natasha.

  3. I currently receive an ECT treatment every other week as.maintenance following 3 full courses of 8 sessions each. I was petrified before my very first ECT treatment, but the possibility of my decade-long bout of severe bipolar II depression lifting made me gulp down my initial fear. I have suffered severe, prolonged bouts of suicidal depression since the age of 13–almost 30 years–with only minimal cycling to phases of hypomania,or mixed states. I have made a total of 8 suicide attempts in my lifetime. During my last decade-long depressive phases I had tried every conceivable drug type from SSRI’s, SSNRI’s, and tricyclics to Lithium and Latuda, more often than not in combinations of 3 or 4 psychotropic drugs at a time. If a drug worked at all, it only did so for a short time–the longest a drug was effective at all was 2 years, and that drug merely lifted me marginally above suicidal.
    Over the last decade I morphed from someone with moderate, stable depression who still managed to attend college, work and raise a child on my own into an inactive, irritable, miserable woman with little motivation to occupy her own mind at a most basic level. Only my children’s mental health prevented my own suicide–I somehow managed enough love for them, to care enough about their futures to not saddle them with the legacy of a suicided mother. Taking care of my children’s most basic needs was all I could bring myself to accomplish. Once an avid reader, the last decade did not see me crack a single book. I took pleasure in nothing and made no positive impact on anyone or anything.
    I desperately wanted to feel better–I could remember “normal” states of mood (at least as close as I personally get to “normal”)–and dreaded being left alone with my thoughts. I dutifully tried several different therapists, but my heart wasn’t in therapy or anything else, for that matter. I did the minimum required by my children and waited for blessed death to visit me through natural causes.
    Finally, all drug options and combinations had been exhausted and I had exhausted the therapy visits allotted to me–with two different shrinks–by the local Community Services Board charged with delivering mental health services by my state. Then a new psychiatrist was assigned to oversee my medications. ECT was floated as a treatment option for my “treatment resistant depressive mood state.” My son’s father is a severe rapid-cycling bipolar I and had undergone ECT several years prior, and his symptoms seemed–at least from the outside, at a distance–to have improved since. At least I had not heard of anymore manic, violent states and he could now function on a day-to-day basis. I decided that I would force myself to put forth the effort required to investigate the treatment myself, and that I would ask my ex’s opinion of ECT when next I caught him alone, when he could talk.
    By the time I did manage to catch my ex and solicit his opinion I hadn’t done any research outside of speaking with the psychiatrist who first broached the option of ECT. I asked a couple of superficial questions and said I would consider the treatment until next we met, in two weeks. By the time I was able to get that first-hand opinion I had already pretty much decided to undergo ECT. I wasn’t deterred by my lack of knowledge about the procedure, or even mildly curious about success rates or even side-effects. I was utterly desperate to relieve my interminable agony and utter despair. I wanted to die, and had wanted to for 10 years. Only my sense of duty as a mother on a most fundamental level had prevented me from taking my own life quite some time prior to 2015. I found no joy or enjoyment or happiness in anything, but I could remember a period of about 6 years in my mid- to late-20’s and early 30’s when I had experienced a relatively symptom-free period of what I considered “normal” and the possibility that ECT might help me heal in that vein was my last option and hope for recovery.
    My ex was adamantly negative about the experience and told me unequivocally not to undergo the procedure…that it didn’t work. Considering what I know about the history of his symptoms, I respectfully must disagree. His manic, often violent and destructive episodes have, at least ceased since he had ECT roughly 7 years ago. From the outside, at least, he’s definitely calmer. Our mutual son agrees with my analysis. Basically, I had already decided to put my last hope for any type of recovery from my miserable daily existence in the ECT basket by the time I got his perspective on the issue.
    My first series of 8 (every other week-day for the majority of 3 weeks) sessions occurred late this past summer and aside from a moderate, short-lived headache and some moderate memory loss on the days I actually received treatments there were no ill effects. Unfortunately, the middling effect it had on my depression only lasted for about 3 weeks after I received the last unilateral shock. I was finally at least improved enough to effectively communicate with my psychiatrist and spoke up as soon as I realized my mood was again becoming severe and life-threatening. His suggestion of another series of 8 ECT’s was readily agreed to by me.
    The result was the same, unfortunately. So again (a 3rd time) we agreed to another treatment series–the unspectacular results were still an improvement above the suicidal state I had clawed my way through for so long. Only for the third series we changed a couple of variables. First, since the first two series’ effects had begun to wear off after roughly 3 weeks a maintenance plan was put in place before the third round of eight was begun. I would return for a single ECT treatment 2 weeks from my last session in this series of eight. Secondly, a change to bilateral placement was made in the hopes of possibly further improving my mood-state.
    I am (quite literally) happy to say that the change in placement to the bilateral method as well as the scheduled maintenance were an overwhelming success. I continue to report for ECT every other week, and will cheerfully continue to do so for as long as it continues to be efficacious. I have memory loss–generally confined to treatment days–but the lost memories are generally insignificant bits of conversations or random events. I no longer even suffer from a post-ECT headache, as the anesthesiologist found a (non-narcotic) drug cocktail that works for me to obliterate that side-effect.
    No, ECT is not for everyone and should not even be recommended in most cases of depression. But in otherwise (physically) healthy individuals who have exhausted all possible drug options or who suffer from treatment-resistant, severe depression as I did, it can quite literally be a life saver. I don’t know how much longer I could have continued to prevent my own suicide by forcing myself to think of the aftermath my children would suffer. But now I am once again an actual functioning member of our society. I am even returning to college full-time to complete my BA in History, with an eye towards going to Graduate school after that. I find joy in spending the simplest moments with my children. I actually laugh now, and find enjoyment once more in being creative or listening to music. And I once again read–voraciously.

  4. I am still angry over what happened to me. In 2010 I had electric shock treatments in the psych ward. I was given rounds of unilateral treatment. Than they doctor did not inform me that he was going to do bilateral electric shock treatment on me which was far worse. I still have damage from it and it is now 2015. I sometimes feel like I am not human having a hard time being emotional or having compassion for others like I used to. It is like I have this emotional disorder on top of being bipolar. Also, I get migraines which I believe were far worse after the electric shock therapy. My short term memory is terrible ever since. I used to have a photographic memory and that is gone now since having electric shock therapy. I warn everybody not to allow a doctor to do this to them. The risk is too great to your brain having this therapy done. I can never get back what that doctor did to me with this barbaric therapy. And to find out psychiatry doesn’t know why or how it works they just believe it works. I find out all this after the hell I have been through. And psychiatrists and therapists never take responsibility for what happens to us that were there guinee pigs. I still struggle with severe depression and have yet to find anything that will get me to want to live . Psych treatments ruined my life.

  5. As someone who has been through ect, i would not recommend it to anyone. When i was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, 5 months into treatment, my psychiatrist recommended it, said it would help. Well from February of 2005 through December of 2005, i went through several series of these treatments. The individual who wrote this article, must never have undergone a treatment. In the beginning, my headaches afterward were so bad, i would vomit. They had to start giving me toradol in my iv before the treatment. As for memory loss, it is not just the time around the treatment, i forgot where long time friends lived but worst of all, i lost memories of when my kids where babies and they were 8 & 6 when i started treatments. I can NEVER get those memories back.
    I to this day, 10 years down the road still suffer the effects of short term memory loss and i have been informed that it will never get better.
    Take the advice of someone who has been through it, DONT DO IT!!

    • I’m sorry you had a bad experience with ECT. However, your experience does not dictate how another person’s treatment will be.

      Honestly, I’m surprised ECT was suggested so early in your diagnosis. In a lot of cases, ECT is used as a last resort, after many different medications are tried yet fail to control the mood swings. I’m assuming you had bilateral treatments? Bilateral has much more risk of memory loss than unilateral.

      I’ve been receiving unilateral ECT for a year now. I had 9 in my acute series, then made the decision to go right into maintenance treatments. Currently, I’m at one treatment every 6 weeks. I’m alive because of ECT. I have Type I Bipolar, have had delusions in severe manic episodes, a suicide attempt in 2008, and a very near attempt last year that led to my 3rd hospitalization. I was very desperate. Natasha said something that all I could think of was “Dear lord, yes — I know how that feels.” —

      “In other words, my own situation got desperate enough and I really did prefer life, even an electrocuted one, over death.”

      Lithium failed me. Seroquel, risperdal, Wellbutrin, Lamictal, zoloft, Latuda… They all failed. I was diagnosed at 21 in my first hospitalization in 2008 after my suicide attempt, which is when I was started on my lithium regimen. March 20, 2015, I had another handful of pills, despite having been in the hospital just 6 months prior. Long story short, I was back in the hospital.

      I chose ECT. I chose to risk losing my memory and having permanent brain damage. What did I have to lose? I was going to kill myself anyway if it didn’t work. But it did work. I am a success story. I’ve had an amazingly positive result with these treatments. Yes, I’ve had short-term memory issues, but I’ve learned to work around it. I get headaches and nausea after a treatment, but toradol and zofran in my IV help.

      Far too few people talk about their positive experiences with ECT. 60-80% of patients are, in fact, successful with these treatments.

      • Unfortunately ect was of no help to me and has left me with significant memory problems. I had no benefit from the numerous medication regimes I tried, but eventually found I improved with lifestyle and exercise changes. However these benefits have not persisted and I am once again fearing the torment of nighttime and the negative feelings and guilt which have recurred. If I am truthful with the docs I will be admitted, but I know this will not help me. I’ve been through the medicines and psychology and now feel it can only be down to me and God. Any other suggestions ?

  6. Pingback: Should I Have ECT? Download Your Free Checklist Below |

  7. Dave-
    If you’re already experiencing profound memory loss after one session, well, just know that the amnesia only seems to compound over time. It largely depends, however, on if you’re having unilateral or bilateral ECT. Bilateral is far worse.
    That said- it’ll be immediately clear when you start to feel the depression lift, and that feeling can make the memory loss worth it. For me, it was and is difficult to deal with all of the memory loss (when I got out of the hospital I didn’t know my way around my own neighborhood), but it comes back over time. A year after 17 ECTs I’m still missing large parts of my autobiographical memory from the last several years. However, when faced with the decision of getting ECT or not, it’s at a very desperate stage. No one WANTS to have ECT. I would have rather died, honestly, but since no medications had worked, and I was stuck in a hospital, ECT was the last ditch option.
    Best of luck.

  8. Just to add – it’s possible to overcome, or at least ameliorate, the side effects of ECT. After I’d had about 30, I couldn’t work as a consultant because I couldn’t remember what the client was saying to me long enough to write it down. Medicine doesn’t seem to have developed any post-ECT rehab, but the brain is very plastic.

    I did this – every single New York Times Sunday crossword ever published. At first, it would take me half a day. Now, usually about 30 minutes.

    Memorized poems.

    Matrixed my memories. The memories are mostly there, but seem to be disconnected. Try to call up related memories, or the smell or feel of a memory – approach them from different angles. Every single time you are successful, say to your brain, “Good work, brain!”.

    Constantly thought of my mind as an orchestra, and encouraged my brain a lot with “Come on, guys, you can do it!”

    I did this for almost two years.

    Although there are still some holes in my memories, and I still have people approach me whom I do not recollect at all, I now can work again.

    Only other problem with ECT is that it doesn’t last. But if you have enough of them, the effect is incremental (for me) – in the five years or so since, I’ve not ever had one day as bad as the previous 40 years were.

  9. Interesting stuff. I am a 60 year old athlete and health professional who lost most of my savings (about $3m) last year through my own fault , which has precipitated guilt and severe depression with persistent suicidal ideation throughout most of the day every day and numerous other investments, situations, relationships, etc going wrong. I had never ever previously been depressed, only had 3 days off work due to illness in a 40 year career, but now am rendered unable to work, had to end my career. I’ve tried numerous meds and only experience side effects but no benefit. I’ve now been pursuaded to start ect. Just had session one – profound memory loss today. I am worried that the memory problems will aggravate my mood and just add to my problems
    Has anyone got experience of the use of ect in relation to a reactive depression?

  10. Wow!!! I can’t believe the ignorance people have about another persons pain! They sound like another persons pain is their burden. If you don’t suffer from major depression you should kiss the ground! People saying stop being negative or give it to God doesn’t take away major depression in fact it really hurts peoples feelings. I been sad since 6 years old now 54 years old and started ect therapy at UCLA I am desperate!

  11. I’m about to have my next set of ECT. I’ve previously had 36 sessions. I’m going to ask for Bilateral this time. ECT has saved my life in the past. It lifted my depression. It’s not a cure. Nothing is. It’s treatment…just like medication, CBT, DBT, Mindfulness etc etc. I’m on 8 different medications/strengths etc. I’m diagnosed with Bipolar Affective Disorder, severe depression, anxiety, OCD..and Borderline Personality Disorder. Suicidal and self harming thoughts sometimes become a hobby. For me, I will continue to have ECT and if it keeps me alive, I’m not going to stop. It’s not for everyone and yes, there are memory issues and going through the treatments are traumatic for me. Being institutionalised for 4-8 weeks takes it’s toll when you first go home but it’s all I feel I have left to prevent suicide. Again, it’s not for everyone and works in different ways for different people, but, in the short term, it helps.

  12. I agree everyone should have a choice on their health care options. I would not take away any options or judge anyone on the choices they make. No treatment should ever be involuntary or without fully informed consent. Elderly people and those with serious chronic health issues should be able to choose death as an option.
    Freedom of choice should be available to everyone. I would never, under any circumstances, limit it.

    • I have one of those positive stories about ECT. I have maintenance ECT and have virtually no memory impairment from the treatments. I can remember right up to the statement “you will be asleep in a few minutes”. I can remember the book my pdoc recommended as we waited for the medications to be drawn. The only thing I don’t care for is getting the IV set up. LOL I will continue getting treatments. My only worry about ECT is that my psychiatrist may say that’s enough.

  13. It’s not the anaesthesia that kills, as they have perfected anaesthesia. The death is the combined result of the anaesthesia and the electroshock, obviously.

    • Obviously? Where do you get that from? Deaths from ECT? I’d be interested to find out more about that Ted. Please provide some facts and figures from a reputable independent source or at least some personal experience instead of just flaming and sensationalising.

      I personally know dozens of people who have either had ECT or continue to have maintenance ECT and I have never heard anyone talk about ECT killing people.

      Anaesthesia is not perfected. It can be dangerous. Thats why they always do a medical evaluation first. The older someone is when they have a general anesthesia the greater the risk – regardless of what the procedure is.

      ECT is a life saving option for many people, just read through the comments below. Is it perfect – no. Does it work for everyone – no. Has the way it administered changed dramatically in recent years – yes. Is it better understood now than it was years ago – yes. Does it have risks – yes. Does that mean it shouldn’t be used? Of course not.

      How many people have serious side effects or worse from basic surgical procedures every year – way to many but does that mean no one should have an operation. Of course not.

      I am yet to see anyone from the “ECT is bad” bandwagon come up with an argument that would change my mind about the procedure or my wifes point of view. For your information Ted my wife is coming up on 100 doses of ECT over many years and wouldn’t change a thing except for not having the illness in the first place but thats a whole new discussion.

      Great work Natasha – keep it up!

  14. Not to mention that the numbers of people who die, especially geriatric patients, are not public knowledge. If somebody dies in a hospital under treatment, it does not make the evening news.

    • Ted,

      We know how many die. It’s ten times less than those who die in childbirth. Your risk is the same as any procedure that uses general anaesthetic.

      – Natasha Tracy

  15. I believe it can work, especially for geriatric patients. However, a previous comment stated that it is often used on people who don’t need it. Also, memory loss is NOT necessarily short term. I have lost the best years of my life. My husband tries to fill me in when an event, vacation and all are mentioned. Sometimes a few words trigger good memories, but not often. Be wise when considering the treatment. Read and study. I should say have another do this for you. We can’t do this for ourselves when we are in pain.

  16. I got ECT after I was treated for acute psychosis in my teenage years, basically ECT makes you forget what happened in the psychiatry ward. I was very violent, when they took me forcibly to the psychiatry ward of a hospital in pune, I do recollect that they forcibly tied my hands, feet, put tape on my mouth, and according to the psychologist started masturbating me, after starting a soft porn video on the tv,

    I was kept tied up because I was violent, given injections, and given anti psychotic drug olanzpine. These treatment continued for a week, and after that they would give me anaesthesia and give me ECT, so finally when I reached home, I could not recollect what happenned during this time, it was as if the 2 week stretch got erased from my memory, initially I tried hard to recollect what had happenned, then I thought probably they hypnotized me so that I forgot , but then later I came to know they give ECT, came in contact with several others, who had gone through such treatment [moderated].

    However I can tell certainly that even if the memories are forgotten the pain remains, with the victim unable to link the source of the pain with the memories of the psychosis treatment, and remains scarred forever, he is not able to succeed, has his functions impaired, and remains dependent on others. I am totally against ECT.

  17. We cannot treat ect lightly. It is a very serious step to take and in my experience it is offered way too often to people whom it isn’t meant for. I think docs in general prescribe dangerous treatments too quickly without considering the seriousness of it. I took my friend to her ect treatments for over a year, every 2 weeks and they did nothing for her ( because I didn’t believe she needed them because she wasn’t depressed!)’but she was the dutiful patient and did what he doctor said and had her brain effed with on a regular basis. She had a brilliant mind as well, but what I witnessed when she came out of those procedures was scary. For hours after treatment, she couldn’t drive, function, remember who she was….people literally thought she was on heavy doses of narcotics. Now that in itself Is not damning testimony, but let me tell you, it sure disturbed me, esp when I knew her doctors were trying to SHOCK her out of impulse control issues and not depression. Seriously they were trying to curb her out of control behavior with shock therapy! Dumbasses. I think the psych treatments are barbaric. So are the drugs. They are like having a pharmaceutical lobotomy. Ive taken them all. Have never opted for ECT. I won’t do it. My memory is hurt enough from all the drugs and alcohol I used to self medicate and the prescrips I’ve taken. I have a very diff experience of this stuff. Many many doctors and hospitals use ect and meds as a way to CONTROL their patients and keep them submissive and sedated. Until there is a way to prevent abuse of these treatments, I don’t think they should be able to prescribe them so easily. And if a patient does experience severe and irreversible side effects the docs who have prescribed them should be held responsible.

    • hi Betty I’m writing an article on good bad and in between experiences with ECT, for me it was all bad, terrible to say the truth…I’m curious though did your friend get some of her cognition back? Can she still function at all? I know of many cases, obviously sadly, where people can barely function, let alone go back to their job, and I know of good outcomes, but most all report some degree of permanent lost memory, despite the obviously inflated statistics, saying “memory always comes back” that’s b**l s**t in my opinion.

      But is there something positive your friend took away from her ECT ordeal? At least where I got mine done the doctors would never use ECT to subdue or opress their patients, as I talked many hours before and after to my doctor and he took my anger et.c very seriously.

      thanks

  18. Approximately 100,000 people have ECT every year. It is effective for 80% of the people who have treatments. Each antidepressant works for 30% of the people who try it. There is a reason people have ECT, it works. Yes, we hear from people who have severe memory loss but that is not the norm. I have ECT every two to three weeks and have been for three years. I have no to minimal memory loss ECT is a very positive thing for me. I don’t worry that I’ll have too much ECT, I worry that I won’t be able to have any more.

  19. Ah, there’s nothing quite so exhilarating as Natasha Tracy on her high horse! Smiting those on THEIR high horses – because their horses are just hobby horses. She rides a steed. Okay, my metaphors run away with me. But thank you for standing up for those of us who’ve had ECT (even more than once in our lives) because we ran out of options, stared death in the face and made a courageous choice. Instead of demonizing us and hurling insults around, how about calling for more research into how ECT works? Because it does work, more reliably than any other treatment for severe suicidal depression (and mania, and mixed episodes). It would be really valuable to know that because then we could figure out a way to get those results in a less “barbaric” way.

  20. Natasha, one more thing…what REALLY bothers me and Flo, is you ignoring or seeming to fluff away those who have been damaged by shock therapy…let’s call it what it is, it’s shock afterall, ECT is a convenient acronym…by just saying memory loss is a “troublesome side effect,” you are sounding like a politiican more than a humane caring person…my memory loss, insomnia, cognitive loss all from this “treatment” is much more than a troublesome side effect, it’s SEVERE TORTURE to me and many others I know…so how about giving the bad outcome people some more credit and ALLOWING us to feel the severity of our memory/cogntiive and yes emotional loss due to this antiquated treatment…and yes the voltage and current is as high or higher in many cases than it was in the olden days of shock treatment before pain medications and muscle relaxants…Natasha I think your initial gut instinct, that “my brain is too precious to run electric current through it,” was right on the money, and like me, you have been sold by the ECT industry a package of B.S. that running current through a brain enough to induce a grand mal seizure is nothing BUT antiquated, barbaric, and of course dangerous…and how about recongizing those like me who suffered and lost their lives practically to this wonderous treatment…your dismissal of the bad outcomes is frankly insulting and I think hurts those who read your blog in the long run.

  21. Hi Natasha,

    I am very curious about trying ECT. I am not particularly freaked out by the idea. But I wonder if it makes sense for a person who is bipolar II like myself and is just sick of spending 80% of their life in depression. Is that treatment only meant for a serious crisis, when the person is either suicidal or incapable of leaving the house? Or can ECT help anyone with major depression?

    I don’t know, maybe I am just very tired of how little drugs are helping me, and I want to go for a silver bullet, and move on with my life. The treatment I want to try the most is ketamine, but it seems like you can only use that for depression in the US and other few countries.

    Bottomline, do you think ECT is something I should look into?

    Thanks

    • Here are some links that explore the bad things associated with ECT.

      The first is a description of Linda Andre, ECT survivor turned author, and head of The Committee for Truth in Psychiatry which is a org consisting of only ECT surviviors so to speak, I just joined myself, it’s been around since the 80’s.

      http://www.mysearchresults.com/search?fi=&s=4&cat=&l=&c=2654&t=03&q=The+Committee+for+Truth+In+Psychiatry+home+page

      this is the famous Sackiem study, one of the grand fathers of ECT who exposed it’s risk for brain damage and permanent amnesia.

      this is a PDF file: http://www.clrp.org/pdf/ElectroconvulsiveShock.pdf

      • Hello Devon,

        Actually, if you look at the actual study, and not the biased pdf, it says, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16936712

        “Electrical waveform and electrode placement had marked cognitive effects. Sine wave stimulation resulted in pronounced slowing of reaction time, both immediately and 6 months following ECT. Bilateral (BL) ECT resulted in more severe and persisting retrograde amnesia than right unilateral ECT. Advancing age, lower premorbid intellectual function, and female gender were associated with greater cognitive deficits. Thus, adverse cognitive effects were detected 6 months following the acute treatment course. Cognitive outcomes varied across treatment facilities and differences in ECT technique largely accounted for these differences. Sine wave stimulation and BL electrode placement resulted in more severe and persistent deficits.”

        In other words, bilateral and sine wave stimulation primarily produced these cognitive deficits. This is not surprising in the least. That is why unilateral ECT is pretty much always the first course of treatment now.

        And there is no mention of brain damage.

        – Natasha Tracy

        • Natasha thanks for quoting that, it does make “me” feel better knowing I had unilateral, but it doesn’t make some of my friends feel better like my friend Mike who had bilateral and 26 plus ECT’s he lost 6 years of memory and I still think unilateral can produce amnesic affects too, but gladly less than others….I would like to know how you are doing, but I assume well since you write so well and can instantly cite things like you just did :)

  22. I have been reading the previous posts. ECT is a subject that certainly bringis out very strong emotions.

    My diagnoses are many, so many that I am sure that I don’t remember them all. The important ones ( to the mental health professionals ) are bipolar1, OCD, schizo-affective disorder, behavioural affective disorder.

    My entrance to the mental health system began when I told my gp that I couldn’t sleep, that was about 1986. Since then, continuously, I have been on some sort of med cocktail. The problem was tha no combination gave me relief.

    Yes, there were times that I felt better than others but for the most part, my quality of life was not what I needed. My son was born in 1982. My daughter in 1884.

    To add to it all, we lived in a very small town (less than 80). My children’s father is a very intelligent man but would not read anything about the mental illnesses that I suffer from. I was kind of on my own.

    That was until the early 1990’s when I ended up in the hospital because of a psychotic break.

    The resident wanted Allan to commit me. He didn’t but I was back in the hospital within a week.

    It was a revolving door when it came to the hospital at home, the psyc hospital and my home.

    Fast forward to 2007. I was one very sick puppy but fortunate to have some very loving friends. I was so ill that I didn’t make the decision to have ECT, it was made for me.

    I live in Canada. Yes we have Medicare. Yes we also have waiting lines when it comes to specialized treatments. I obviously needed immediate help but there were no beds available.my friend Barbara let me stay at her house. I went to work with her, everyday. Just sat on the couch in the waiting room and read. I guess I sat there very quietly, not bothering anyone.

    Everyday Barbara and her roommate Judy, called everyone they could think of that was connected with the health care system. They watched out for me a month. I know how fortunate I am and that most don’t have that support.

    So, the first time I had ECT, I was an in-patient.I think I had 7 treatments the first round.

    The reason I say “I think” is because I have practically no memory of the time that I was at Barbara’s or being in the hospital. Someone who came to visit told me that it was a blessing that I couldn’t remember that time.

    It worked. People who had known me for more than 20 years, that they had never seen me smile before. I became much more outgoing. I was even able to talk to people I was standing in a line.

    Never would I have acted like that before the ECT.

    Like many have said, it doesn’t always last forever.

    I did another round in 2011. Unfortunately it didn’t work that time. It was ans an out-patient, so much more inconvenient. No memory loss at all.

    I did have memory loss with 2007. It was frustrating but for how it helped me, it was more than a fair trade.

    Have been at both ends of the ECT procedure. The amazing feeling when after you thought your world was going to end, and you find out that people notice you smile.

    Also the sinking feeling when you feel in your gut that nothing is different.

    ECT has been suggested to me again.

    We’ll see.

  23. I am glad to see that you support ECT. I will be having treatments Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of this week. I am scheduled to two treatments the following week at which time we’ll discuss whether to do any more before returning to a maintenance schedule. When severely depressed, I become suicidal and the only thing that helps is ECT. Thank God it still exists and in the form it is now. It is a humane, effective treatment.

    • Good luck with your treatments. ECT works for my wife very well and she doesn’t regret the decision to have it at all. She has now had several courses of ECT totalling over 80 individual treatments. It is easy for people to say it is barbaric etc but I wonder how many of the opponents have actually had a mental illness, explored and tried every medication ever invented without any success and been facing a life in a mental health ward or worse.

      It’s only people who have gotten to this stage and made the decision to undertake ECT that really have a right to be so anti ECT in my opinion. Due to our involvement with various mental health organisations we know of a very high percentage of people who have had ECT that say it was the best thing they ever did. Yes, there are some who struggle and it is heartbreaking to see. We can only try to help where we can.

      I heard ECT compared to chemotherapy once. The discussion was that no one wants cancer or a serious mental illness. No one wants to do chemotherapy and no one wants to have ECT. Some people who have chemo have a full recovery and all the side effects of the treatment are worth it. Then there are those that the chemo doesn’t work for and they die of cancer or go into remission only for the cancer to return in future years. It’s the same with ECT. For some people the outcome is marvellous. For some it works a bit and for some it doesn’t work at all.

      However the thought process of the patients is the same. I don’t want this illness but if I am to try and beat it I have to do whatever I need to and deal with side effects.

      Yes there are memory loss issues but together my wife and I we have found a way of recovering a lot of them. We have written about it on our blog here – http://www.queenslandmentalhealth.com/ect-memory-loss/

      I hope this helps and I sincerely wish anyone either contemplating or undergoing ECT the very best.

  24. Good on you Natasha!

    It is such a relief to find someone who has the strength of character to stand up and say that ECT can and often does work when nothing else has.

    My wife is diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. Luckily, the majority of the time her illness is well managed and she is able to operate at a very high level both at home and at work.

    The problem was that every time her illness blew up (approximately every 4 or 5 years) if became increasing more resistant to medication. 11 years ago she had an episode that saw her hospitalised with severe psychosis.

    14 weeks latter despite being given every drug known to man including what she had been on prior to the episode that held her stable for so long, her doctor called an emergency family meeting.

    He started with the fact that the hospital was an acute treatment facility not a residential facility. If my wife wasn’t better in a week or 2 they would have to move her to a secure residential mental health facility. Knowing where they would send her, this wasn’t an option we wanted to explore. In desperation we pleaded for options.

    This is the first time ECT was ever raised in regards to my wife’s treatment plan. I knew nothing about it except for what I had seen on One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest and that scared the shit out of my. After discussing ECT with every doctor and nurse I could talk to, talking with others who had either had ECT or were going through it and spending hours on Google I decided we needed to try it. As my wife was living in a complete psychosis and had been placed on an involuntary treatment order because she was completely unable to made informed, educated decisions on her treatment the decision to proceed (or not) came down to me. I have no hesitation in saying this was the hardest and heaviest decision I have made in my 45+ years.

    But decide I made the decision and signed the paperwork to authorise the initial course of 6 treatments.

    Due to work commitments I couldn’t be there for the first treatment which was scheduled for 8am on a Wednesday. What I do know is the my wife rang me about 9.15am and we had our first normal, civil, intelligent conversation in over 3 months. She told me she was back in the ward and other than a “bit of a head ache” felt fine. We talked for 15 minutes before she had to go so someone else could use the phone/ I have no problem telling you I broke down and cried like a baby for several minutes.

    My wife was back! Everything will be OK again I thought.

    No different to any treatment of a mental health issue there have ben ups and downs but in general its all good.

    The memory loss can be an issue but we have developed a process that allows for about 97% of the memories to be recovered (Natasha – I have written a post about this on my own blog to help people develop skills to minimise the severity of memory loss at http://www.queenslandmentalhealth.com/ect-memory-loss If you happy for the link – great. If not I completely understand as well)

    My wife was released after the 4 dose of ECT and was at a stage where she was able (with some help) to function at home and figure out what was real and what was the illness.

    She has had a further 2 serious episodes requiring hospitalisation over the last 10 or so years and each time it has been ECT that was able to break the hold the illness had on her.

    She has had over 100 doses of ECT now and is doing incredibly well.

    Would she prefer not to have ECT – of course
    Would she prefer to be locked up in a secure facility for ever – no way!

    So what is the better option? Well of course ECT is. She has (100% her own decision) had her file marked “commence ECT immediate;y on admission)

    My beautiful wife may not have any control on being born with a serious mental illness that is resistant to medication but she does have some control on her preferred treatment method when she descends into a deep, dark psychotic hole and her preference is ECT.

    If you have had ECT or you are closely associated with someone who has, you have a right to an informed opinion here. If you don’t fit into one of those categories you really should keep your opinions to yourself and stop harassing and belittling those who have made the decision to try and improve their life via ECT.

    Keep up the great work Natasha and stay strong!

    • Hi Natasha,

      I appreciate you sticking up for ECT survivors or whatever you wish to call them, so I think it’s great that you see the utility of people who have sweared good things by ECT. However ECT has ruined many peoples lives, you can start by reading wikipedia on ECT there are quotes from Liz Spikol, and a few other “bad outcomes” who lost significant memory loss to ECT…than there is the Harold Sackiem study that is talked about on wikipedia where he sites out of 350 plus patients who were monitered both before and after ECT all 300 plus tested “significantly worse” on all given neuropsyche tests, so each category they all did much worse regardless of the type, frequency, or strength of the ECT…so this means there is no safe amount of ECT and the study did say most likely this was due to brain damage….

      .Natasha I would like to link you the studies I have read, at least 9 that showed really gruesome details on how ECT damages the brain, heats of the BBB, causes widespread cell death, and many other technical things, but I forget where I put them…I am functionally really gone from ECT, living in a semi demented state as many ECT survivors have…I know there are people like you who have done well on ECT, and I believe you are still functioning at a high level…you can also google Peter Breggin who has fought against the use of ECT in the past, he believes all ECT survivors have long term and permanent memory and cognitive deficits many just aren’t aware of it, since it’s hard, very hard, to realize what one forgot or what one can’t do post ECT as trying to remember how you “used to be,” is exceptionally hard, but Breggin believes ECT dampens emotions, and waters down a person’s personality, not his words but basically shock treatment causes brain damage in varying degrees and many survivors lack insight due to ECT so they can’t figure out how bad their cognitive abilities have become.

      Natasha, I respect you a lot actually, can you honestly tell me that you feel you haven’t lost memory, cognitive abilities or personality to your ECT treatments? I’m not challenging you I would just like to know, because you said you were considering doing more…when the Dr. Oz show on ECT came out over a hundred people wrote in on the website to tell them not to air good things about ECT and how much they felt they had been damaged by the treatment…these people wrote in out of their own free will, and it was all alarming and terrible I can assure you.

      What have I lost? I have lost years of memory, most of my life is a faded washed out blur of a few memories…I have lost virtually all my memories of my childhood, to college including most of my cherished memories of my mother, who was my best friend and fave person…like a few other people who wrote in on your blog I can no longer do basic math, my reading is non-existent as I instantly forget whatever it is I read…I lack the energy mental energy to even write as I used to, and yes I know this is due to ECT, why? Because I never had this problem prior to ECT and I have talked to at least 10 to 15 people who have similar energy issues after their shocks…

      I would like to understand your thinking as to why you think more ECT would benefit you, in light of all the people who have clearly explained how damaging ECT was for them…do you really want to chance more shocks and potentially lose memory and cognitive abiliities? Also the ECT doctors never tell you how HIGH the voltage, (power) or current, (the energy from the shock itself,) are…the voltage is up to 450 volts which is enough to light a light bulb, and the current is 2 ampiers, which I was told is a dangerous amount of current and enough to kill someone if put through a human heart…autopsies show pinpoint hemoriging, necrophages or dead cells and other nasty things that such a high amount of current did to these patients.

      I have also read accounts online at ECT.org which showed a less biased account of ECT and there were hundreds of people who wrote how damaged ECT made them, many damged just like I am today…unfortunately the site was hacked and taken down probably by people working or backed by the ECT industry.

      I for one am tired of this game of clearly russian roulette, yes some do fair well on ECT, and yes I believe it can prevent suicides in some cases, others become suicidal, like me, BECAUSE of ECT, and all the loss of memory it can cause……yes one study I read, showed 80% of ECT patients formerly felt they had permanent memory loss and other cognitve losses…I used to have all of the studies backed up on my pc, but my computer broke and I had to buy a new one.

      So please due tell me, if you want, how your cognition and memory are, and why you think you are impervious to the potential problems that so many have talked about with this risky, and yes barbaric treatment imo.

    • Natasha and Carole,

      Here is a post from psyche central that dispells the 80% myth of efficacy right away, “it’s more like 60%” they say, and for treatment resistant depression, sadly the figure is only 40%

      This post also dispells the myth that there is no long term memory loss, it says retrograde amnesia of a permanent nature is a whopping 30%, and I wouldnt’ be surprised if it’s far higher, as I have yet to read one post of a person who DOESN’T complain of at least some permanent memory loss, usually for life events of a generalized nature.

      Here is the link: http://pro.psychcentral.com/2013/ect-a-2004-update-on-this-treatment-for-depression/001824.html#

      • Hi D,

        That’s an interesting article. Here’s another that’s 9 years more recent and in line with what medicine currently believes: http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/electroconvulsive-therapy/cognitive-effects-ect-tolerability-versus-safety/page/0/1

        (You need a free account, I think, to view it.)

        And when the PsychCentral article says 30% experienced memory loss, it doesn’t say what _kind_ of memory loss. It would be very reasonable to think that 30% of people experienced memory loss for events around the time of the treatment – which is well known.

        I should also point out that the PsychCentral article you posted is very much in favor of maintenance ECT. In other words, ongoing ECT. It is very effective in increasing remission rates.

        – Natasha Tracy

  25. [TW: self harm, assault, sexual assault, bullying] I am female age 40, gay, single, no kids, atheist, undergrad degree in math/software, 20 yrs of music study & performance viola, & percussion. Oldest daughter, one sister & parents still together.
    In 2005 I had undergone 10 years of treatment for severe unipolar depression accompanied by fatigue, migraines, pain, anxiety, self-harm, PMDD, BDD, ED and insomnia. Treatments included most SSRIs, trycyclics, some augmentations with other meds used off-label, benzos, the pill, gabapentin, wellbutrin, cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, psychoanalysis, and biofeedback.
    I had been working In software development, traveling overseas for business, avid skier, hiker, very social, in decent shape and active despite symptoms until late 2003. I could no longer summon energy to lift my arms to drive or type, let alone sit up 8 plus hours a day. I took temp disability leave on advice of my shrink twice but by early 2005 I was so weak and distracted I went on full disability.
    There were no more meds except MAOIs which I could not tolerate. I was no longer lucid enough to feed myself, remember meds, drive and gave power of attorney to my father.
    I had a voluntary referral for ECT because insurance would not consider the VNS until after ect.
    I took notes at the consult indicating it terrified me. I had a panic attack watching the video. They assured me it was easier than a dental appt. My father traveled to Denver to take me for treatments. I was to start with a 30 treatment course. Mon Wed Fri for several weeks of unilateral ect. I kept a journal because I read memory loss was bad during treatment. I had to stop all benzos. They assured me I would not wake alone.
    On my second treatment the anaesthesiologist (a different one than the first–in fact in 29 treatments every anesthesiologist was different) pushed the paralytic and not the general for some reason. I could hear the docs talking about their dogs. I felt like I was choking suddenly but could not move, gasp, or ask for help. I felt a weird pressure in my head and saw aura like from migraines but much brighter and over my entire field of vision. the last thing I felt was the warmth of my tears falling down my cheek & then I assume the tonic clonic seizure knocked me out.
    When I woke up I told my doctor, I told her what her dogs name was and about the aura. She got very upset and explained I had recall from light anesthesia. The paperwork showed no general was administered because I appeared out.
    This really messed me up. I wanted to quit but I wanted my life back more so I kept going. Two more times I had recall from improper anaesthesia. My seizures were too short and they started pushing enormous amounts of caffeine to lower my seizure threshold. That is painful and my journal indicates it felt terrible for 24 hours. By this time I was having three day long migraines twice a week. My dad would have to explain to me after each shock that I lived in CO and what year it was. I always had to be told my dog was dead (she passed in 99) and I was a zombie. My journal is hard to read because my hands shook from caffeine. It is word salad in some places.
    On the 29th treatment the seizure caused irregular heartbeat probably from caffiene and I told the doc no more.
    I never went back there. My parents moved me home in 2006 because though my short term memory improved I could not remember enough to work or find my way aroundand I forgot to eat. The migraines had me bed ridden. I had to be put on xanax for panic attacks and opiates for the pain. I never felt depression lift–my journal says I just felt so horrid from ect that the depression did not matter.
    In 2007 a shrink in NM diagnosed me with severe PTSD from the recall during ECT. He also ran bloodwork showing my Vit B12 was deadly low and I was hypothyroid. I was diagnosed with Pernicious Anemia & Hashimoto’s thyroid both autoimmune disorders that produce symptoms similar to depression. We went back and found my thyroid and RBC folate from 2001 was super low but the GP missed it. Likely my depression was caused or exacerbated by the autoimmune disorders.
    I know my ECT experience was unusual in some ways. I know people and met one that swear by ECT for unipolar and bipolar.
    I have never regained the ability to read music, write software, or do basic math. I have vocabulary deficits that improved with the b12 injections.
    I still do not remember 2004-2010 at all except from journals. I see pictures I know are of me but it feels strange and eerie. I have trouble with face recognition, balance and lots of nerve damage. Probably some of that is from the autoimmune.
    Neurologists said it is hard to know until I can afford some scans.
    I understand being unable to function, suicidal and wanting life back. I still wish I had not tried ECT and I think it should be voluntary on ar
    I think ECT needs to be done very carefully and with more study. I definitely wish I had not done it if not for the reason that insurance preapproved 30 treatments and then stuck me with $20k after changing their mind. I lost my home and job. The clinic I had ect at was shutdown a few months after I left for undisclosed reasons.

  26. If people are going to outright attack the validity of using ECT and talk about studies that say that the treatments damage brains, then please do the rest of us a favor and provide links to these studies!!! Saying they are too painful for you to read is a cop out. Otherwise you are just here to vent and are not being very helpful, just emotional. I can’t tell you how many people point to these studies and diss on a treatment that might save someone’s life and then they can’t produce one article of fact regarding them. If ECT is that bad, then one’s depression must be that bad to try it and you did what you felt right at the time. After reading a couple of posts of anti-ECTers, I think the one gal had a major personality disorder and not enough of a major bipolar or depressive disorder so of course therapy alone helped her. The other gal speaks of someone who is in bed 18 hours a day – a vegetable with amnesia and sleeping. That is truly unfortunate and brings home the point to be sure and find a reputable doctor to do these treatments and under the lowest settings possible first. It also sounds like maybe she’s had a recurrence of depression more than severe brain damage from ECT. There are people who have severe seizure disorders for longer than just a minute or so and I’ve never heard of any of them ending up like that – not the two I’ve known. So I am led to think the woman in bed is just severely mentally ill and the depression deepened. It is interesting too that so many complain of lost memories but how would they know how severe their memory loss is if they can’t remember?

    By the way, I had ECT – bilateral and many sessions in 1986. Yes, it helped me for a while. Yes, it did cause me some memory loss but most of the important stuff came back and was not affected – such as driving directions and basic things. I went on to finish college and received a graduate degree. If anything the severe episodes of depression are now ruining my ability to concentrate, remember, and function like a normal human being. Or maybe it’s the medications after all these all these years. I’ve been through various types of therapy and practice yoga and meditation and STILL my depression pummels me from March to September for some reason and is getting increasingly longer and worse over the past few years. So I will probably try ECT again rather than commit suicide as I have been considering it more and more seriously every bout I go through. It is a hellish way to live with depression so bad my head feels like it is going to explode in pain some days with a depression headache” that is not even a real headache.

  27. Natahsa just a few more points on ECT…it has greatly impacted not only my short, working, and long term memory, but my ability to write, spell, and heh, even drive…Since ECT I feel so spaced out when I drive, it feels like I’m sometimes going to hit something, and my sense of direction is almost shot.

    I live in a tortured state, much of the time, and I’m positive it was from shock therapy. I feel mindless, zombied out, days, months, years all blur together, and this is a very common complaint, from stories I’ve read on pro, neutral and anti ECT blogs and sites.

    Shocking people out of depressed states and not even telling them about the volts and current IS disgusting to me, and many of the numerous people I’ve networked with over the past 3 years.

    My good friend [moderated] had 26 bilateral ECT’s and 6 years around treatment, are almost totally wiped out.

    Ernest Hemingway said a famous quote, (something to the effect of,) ECT doctors don’t know what shock treatment does to writers, I lost my mind and I lost my craft..(not exact words but close.)

    Is it fair that some of us, many in my experience, are so traumatized by shock treatment that we are left feeling paralyzed, furious, and MORE depressed after? How in a democratic society do we allow this, and say well, “some fair well, and some don’t.” I will never wrap my small mind around that dichotomy.

    best,

    Devon

  28. First off, I want to say a HUGE thank you Harry, Natasha and Tom for your support! I realise that it has been a very long time since I posted that, and that might actually be because of the memory loss I have suffered! In fact, I didn’t even remember posting anything on here and thought I had just subscibed to it or something and that was why I kept getting all the emails about recent posts! I was just reading through a ton of them and then came across my own post and suddenly remembered posting it!

    Well, I thought I would update you all and share a bit of my own experience with ECT, since there seems to be so many extremely opinionated posts about it. (I won’t name any names, but I’m sure you can guess who I am talking about!)

    Anyway, I was very well warned about the possibility of memory loss and how significant it could be by my psych doctor, but I was so far down in the “pit of despair” that I was already experiencing memory loss as it was! I decided that merely surviving each day was just way too much to handle and “not worth it” anymore. Yet I was still somehow aware of how deeply it would affect my loved ones, and didn’t want to put them through any more pain than they were already going through with me being in such a deeply depressed state. I was cutting regularly, and completely disconnected emotionally – to the point that I couldn’t even remember being at special events like birthday parties and such. I would forget where I was and where I was going while driving from one end of town to the other and would have to pull over and sit there for a while to try and figure out where the heck I was going! So, to say I was already experiencing memory loss would have been putting it mildly! Being that as it was, I was not even a bit worried about the doctor’s constant warning about the potential memory loss. I ended up telling my doctor that if I didn’t receive ECT, I would most definitly be dead (and very soon). I had “a plan” and date and was ready to put it into action. I also remember telling him that I thought I owed it to my friends and family to at least “give it a shot” so I could at least say that I tried everything! Luckily I have a VERY good relationship with my psychiatrist, and he knew that I was very serious! I told him I would be willing to put the plan on hold to see if the treatments were going to work. He agreed and we started treatments the next week.

    Growing up I endured all forms of abuse from my father and then step father. I have been in behavioral therapy since 2001, when my eating diorder was too obvious to hide anymore. I was also assigned a psychiatrist, diagnosed with multiple dissorders, and put on almost every medication available. Some meds were helpful, but only for a time until I built up a tolerance to them and have to keep increasing the dosage. Then I would be switched to something else (usually a whole coctail of them). During those years I became a “frequent flier” in the psych ward because of all the self harm and suicide attempts. Sometimes going back after only having been out for a couple weeks. I would cut, punch, burn, head bang, and was severly anorexic (to the point where I was passing out just trying to walk across the room). I was so underweight that my therapist sent me to the closest eating disorder hospital. I was realeased before I gained their desired amout of weight though, because my insurance ran out and we (my husband at the time, and I) didn’t have the money for me to stay any longer. So, I went back home where I was being molested multiple times a day by my father in law. Needless to say, I did not get better.

    I am only telling you all of this because I wanted to give you somewhat of a background as to why I was so deperate to end my pain. The ECT worked wonders for me and I was actually declared to be in full recovery from my depression. I wasn’t having any suicidal thoughts and I was actually excited to start a new life, free of most of my symptoms! Needless to say, my friends and family were more than happy to see such amazing progress!

    I do remember that “burning” of the injection just before falling asleep, but after telling the doctor how bad it hurt, they gave my something else right before it which numbed me enough that I barely felt it each time after that.

    Unfortunately, my recovery didn’t last long. Thanksgiving came and being around so many of my triggers (certain family members for example) for most of the day was more than I could handle, and I crashed. I went home and took the blade to my arm once more. This started the cycle of shame, and hopeless despair all over again. I was actually able to hide it fairly well though, and only my best friend knew about it. Then Christmas came and another whole day of non-empathetic, very judgmental family members. This triggered more cutting, only deeper this time, with suicidal thinking as well. When I finally got up the courage to tell my doctor, we decided to go back to treatments twice a week again from the every-other-week maintenance I had been receiving. Only this time they didn’t help at all. It caused such severe confusion and extreme frustration at not being able to even remember anything – even something someone said only two sentences ago in a conversation. My brain was a complete fog. This only compounded the depression and belief that I was worthless and a waste of eveyone’s time and space. I was in such a mental wasteland that I couldn’t even read anymore. I remember trying to read, but absolutely nothing registering. I would be ok for two days after each treatment, but would feel the effects “wear off” all throughout the next day.

    I finally told the doctor that I wasn’t going back for anymore treatments. I was down to only one medication by then and so we increased the dose. Since then, I am feeling much better and the fog is lifting more and more each day! Through therapy I have been identiying my triggers and have been eliminating them. Including any negative people. It has been hard, but definitely worth it! I am less stressed and just being able to remember more things and having my brain function back has been wonderful! I am trying and succeeding at staying more positive and have been surrounding myself with only positive and supportive people. That along with a new list of coping skills and resources, I have done a complete 180!

    I do feel that ECT played a huge part in helping me see that there IS such a thing as recovery, and now I am getting so much more out of my therapy sessions as well! It helped put me in a better mind set, and now I can see a light at the end of the tunnel. It definitely saved my life, but also made things worse the second time around.

    Thank you for sticking up for this treatment as not being “barbaric” or “inhumane”. While I realise it can have some pretty serious side effects, it may also be just what a person needs to be able to see the brighter side of life. Everything in moderation. Too much can be very damaging!

    Well thank you for listening to my story. I actually wrote and published my biography with the hope that it might help someone else who is feeling just as hopeless and alone as I was. I am actually in the process of writing my second book now that I have my brain function back! :) It’s purpose will be to help raise awareness and hopefully help reduce the horrible stigma surrounding mental illnesses and their treatments. It can be such a huge obstacle to one’s recovery. I am finally learning to give myself just as much patience, love, and acceptance as I would give anyone else in my situation. It is such a new concept for me, but so freeing!

    Best wishes to all – Erin

    • support for all of your comments, ECT can be, and is for me, a lifesaver. Long live ECT (I am in Australia).

  29. approx 80 ECTs over 13 years by a psychiatrist I trust totally and I can catagorically say I would prefer a bit of memory loss to a coffin. A lifesaver.

  30. Natasha, I notice you have an agenda, and anybody who posts a differing opinion is sidestepped, and you leave a cutting remark at the end like a child would do. ECT does damage the memory, and whether it can be recovered by some means is debatable. You say that you were going to die with such certainty. That is not a feeling but a logical statement and perhaps you were not suffering from suicidal depression but some other perhaps unknown brain disorder. People who are suicidal do so because a stack of bad things in their mind happened to them or they have some illogical belief that they will suffer and death is the only way out. You seem to say you were suffering. I honestly don’t believe you can remember that suffering today and for you to gain that insight (which can be taught) is that suffering is transitory. People on bad acid trips will say they were scarred by a bad trip and would have killed themselves at that moment if they had access, but over the next months and sometimes years, that bad acid trip fades and they enjoy life. Now why they had that bad experience is a guess but shows that the brain can experience terror and suffering through a slight chemical bumb from lsd.

    You seem to be logical, but your logic is stunted by what you read and not with what you believe. Many people who do get out of depression don’t listen to any of that garbage and fight their way out tooth and nail. I don’t sense that fight in you but rather some displaced anger, and I’m not trying to psychoanalyse you, but rather to defuse your comments defending ect, and that is a noble cause because adding ect causes more suffering even though the guy or gal may not feel the suffering of the depression but rather bewilderment and pain from precious memories snatched out of their heads like some demonic beast.

    I said once before and I will say again that the 50s and 60s psychedelic treatment of schizophrenic and autistic children was a success in a state hospital, where these children had poor prognosis, and the majority improved to what anybody would say is normal, and that’s what we should fight for, to be normal, or normal again. To feel good like you did, and that is not by taking those debilitating pills but through love, and possibly a psychedelic therapy by those therapists who do that, and there are those around if somebody is locked in some mind problem that bothers them. Psychedelics are powerful but they are not that dangerous, but it is modern society that causes most of the people’s bad reactions because they fear they will be arrested or considered schizophrenic. I wouldn’t take any psychedelics but I know that for some people it helps them. But love is the most important and you have to steer the mammoth course of the mind around back to true love, and that goes for everybody.

  31. Good article. It is good to find others who have had similar experiences with ECT and other meds.My story is I have been through several major depressions the last one until now occurred 10 years ago. I had maitained quite well with effexor for that amount of time. Then in August of 2011 I had a thoracotomy surgery which removed half of my left lung. It turned out not to be cancerous but it was a major surgery all the same. During my healing up process from this I began to fall into a deep depression in which medications were increased,changed,added to and so forth. It seemed like nothing was working and I was feeling more suicidal as time went on. Finally after 4 short tem hospitalizations I ended up in the hospital for 21 days in which I received 6 ECT treatments. It was a last resort as I seemed to not be responding to any of the medication cocktails that were tried on me. I didn’t seem to have much of the memory loss associated with ECT but it’s been 3 months since my last treatment and I don’t feel right yet. It has changed my personality to where before I was a pretty outgoing person and experienced a normal range of emotions; now I just seem so void and withdrawn to many things. I don’t know if this was from the ECT or the length of such a bad depression. I just don’t find the happiness that I once knew as when I came out of previous depressions I felt really good and glad to be a part of life again. This time I just keep hoping and praying that I will start to get back into the game of life again as I don’t feel connected to much of anything. My wife has been pretty supportive through all of this but I fear that her feelings for me have somewhat been snuffed outby the lack of getting better. She has made remarks like “I just want the old guy back I fell in love with” and this scares me cause I want him back too but don’t know where he is or if I can ever find him again. I’m afraid he got lost in the ECT episodes and have hoped that time would heal up the damge done to my psyche. My biggest fear is that my wife leaves me as I do not seem to be who I was when she met me some 9 years ago. Any advice or help would be appreciated. While I’m not totally blaming ECT Icannot fully endorse it either.

  32. The longer I deal with BPD, the more open-minded I get. I take 4 meds. Some folks think that’s too much but it’s my head and they currently work for me. I personally would not have ECT, but if it works for you, great.
    Sounds like Michele is not a mental-health (hate that term) “consumer”. If she was, she would realize many of us would literally give up an arm or leg to get some relief when things get bad enough.
    I am an atheist but if you believing in a god gives you comfort, I’m all for it. I try my best not to judge. But if I do, I like to walk that kilometer or two in their shoes to check out the scenery. BTW Michele, I take size 10.
    Take care.

  33. 80% effective? Better check your data. Makes me doubt your extensive research claim. This is the American Psychiatric Association’s PR line. [moderated]

    I’m also an ECT Survivor and a certified peer specialist but what many people are never warned about is the large minority who have permanent irreversible cognitive damage and the fact that ECT is no more effective than placebo and actually increases the suicide rate.

    • Corinna, how many ECT’s did you have and how are you fairing now? i am so severely damaged by this treatment that I constantly want to hear that others are fairing better than me, just to give me hope….are you able to work, have fun, feel human? None of these things I can do now thanks to this God damn treatment….I have read some studies that show ECT DOES increase suicide rate, due to the damage and after the sessions are over your brain doesn’t keep the “high” feeling that many believe is a side effect of brain damage itself…for MANY like me ECT never is even effective, meaning it never alleviated my depression in the first place…so I did 9 shocks just to not feel anything remotely beneficial and now have as you said, “permanent and irreversible cognitive damage,” I can barely read and write or remember anything now living in a amnesic if not semi demented haze….I read in one study 80% felt ECT had permanently damged them, memory and congitive wise.

  34. My mother was a recovering alcoholic of many years. One day I got a call from her at my work. It was very unusual for her to call me. She was slurring her words, crying, and I thought, her we go again. I jumped in my car and drove two hours to where she lived.
    My aunt was there and had contacted her psychiatrist. ECT now, right now. I was two years away from my own diagnosis and knew nothing about ECT. This was 1980.
    I think it saved her and her memory was sharp. But both of my brothers said that they didn’t think she was ever really the same. I didn’t see that but they may have been right.
    But she was alive and, as for me, I would do it in a heartbeat. My mothers’ depression was the worst I have ever seen. She would have died without ECT. But I know very sensible people, one, a very popular bipolar blogger that have nothing good to say about it. But how many people have anything good to say about any MI treatments?

  35. Can you refer or suggest an online community for those who receive ECT? It can be lonely when you’re the only person you know who receives this care.

    • Hi Jane,

      I’m so sorry, I wish I knew of one, but I don’t. All I can tell you is that you’re not alone. There are 100,000 people just like you out there in the US every year. I was one of them.

      If you would like to write about your story, feel free to do so here or on the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/BipolarBurble I keep these places moderated so you can speak without the fear of reprisal.

      If not, just know that we’re standing with you. All of us who have been there and everyone who has loved all of us who have been there. Remember that. You’ll get through this. There is an “other side.”

      – Natasha Tracy

  36. Natasha, as a (psychiatric) nurse I’ve meat a lot of people in a depression so severe they couldn’t face it anymore. Some of them underwent all available treatments without getting better and got to the point where ECT was the last remaining option to try. A large percentage of these people got better, some to a degree where they were able to face life again and for some the sun really went shining again. Unfortunately I also meat people who weren’t so lucky. The ECT (as all the other treatments) didn’t help and they suffered a lot of nasty side effects. ECT isn’t the miracle treatment for everybody (but so isn’t any (psychiatric) treatment), but it can be a live saving treatment. Let’s keep that in mind before judging people who provide or get treated with ECT.

    • Hi Lex Vink,

      Thanks for sharing.

      Certainly, I would never say it was a miracle cure. If I thought that, I would just call this blog “Everyone should get ECT” and be done with it :)

      But, as you say, it works for the majority, but certainly not all. And as a psychiatric nurse, you would know that best.

      – Natasha Tracy

      • That’s a bold statement: And as a psychiatric nurse, you would know that best.The things I don’t know are a vast majority compared to the things I do know, however what I do know is how easy it is to (mis)judge.

  37. unless you have been in that dark hole you can not in any way understand the pain. ECT scares me but I know it can help.. I’ve been so far down that the top of the well is a pinpoint of light and I know I will never get out of the hole.

  38. I know we’ve covered this ground before, but I’ve always held that ECTs were essential a few years ago in bringing me out of a neurogenic coma of a sort. Six weeks into a hospitalization, extreme interventions and medication administration were having no result. It was a desperate situation. To this day, I know that the treatments my team ordered saved my conscious mind.
    Later, I continued maintenance treatments, which held some benefit. I felt safe with the pdocs and the anesthesia team. We even had a few laughs, as I brought a copy of “Running with Sissors” that I was reading to one of our sessions.
    Extreme measures for extreme situations. I feel that I am fully alive today because my caregivers recognized that I needed help when the going got tough.

    • Hi Thomas,

      We might have been over it before, but other readers likely haven’t so thank-you for sharing your experience.

      It’s important to show that on the other side of ECT, many people appreciate their treatment and even remember going through it and still feel positively about it.

      Oh, and you’re not a brain-dead vegetable. I’m not either, but for some reason people seem to get this impression that we all are.

      – Natasha Tracy

  39. I have so much memory loss just from the bipolar. The roller coaster swings, sometimes helped by medication, and sometimes worsened. I have many health problems and have been put under many times for injections to endoscopies. I have not had ECT at this point, but I can tell you that there are times of going so low that any help would be accepted.
    I must say I love all the articles here, you’re writing goes from informative to personal. In this life that it greatly appreciated. It is a reminder that I’m not alone. Thank you humbly for your bravery.

    • Hi Justina,

      Well thank-you. I try to do my best to help educate and inform people about my experience and the facts at large. And no, you are not alone. None of us are. We stand together.

      – Natasha Tracy

  40. I have a loved one who has been through ECT for going on a couple of years now(the initial rounds and then what we call “booster” sessions) with nothing but absolute success. I went through a twice a week for three months round in mid 2011(June-August to be exact) and to this day I remember very little about the time that passed in my life from May-October. I believe that I benefited from ECT in that I am on an all time low dose of Seroquel now, but I don’t think I will ever willingly go throug it again. I was also hospitalized three times while I was undergoing treatment because my meds got all wonky while they were doing everything at once, but I only remember bits of those times because I got to bring home the art projects I did while there. I don’t believe that I would remember a minute of them if I didn’t have something tangible to remind me. Like I said though, I think that it is unreasonable for some people to make a blanket statement about the barbarity of the treatment and how it doesn’t work when the simple truth is that the human brain still has a lot of uncharted territory in it and the practice of medicine is just that…a practice…what doesn’t work for me might be the “miracle” treatment someone else needs. Just my nickel’s worth.

  41. I’ve had ECT. 6 rounds. It was all my insurance company would pay for.

    I’ll say this…I’m glad I did it but will never do it again. Why? PTSD from the injections given prior to the “zap” and memory loss.

    My “sessions” were back in February of this year. To this day, if I’m quiet I can still feel the burn of the injection as it travels from my IV into my vein then into my brain. Say what you will but I felt it…all SIX times! From the first session on, I was scared shitless of this injection.

    When I woke up afterward, I didn’t remember shit. That’s to be expected, short-term memory loss. But I never got it back. I forget things from my past and even things I do on a day to day basis. I will stop mid-way through an activity and forget what I’m doing, where I am. And it continues.

    I was excited to go the route of ECT. I was hospitalized for half of my approved sessions and any other patient would tell you how over the moon about the procedure I was. I knew if it worked, it would be short term but in the end, it did nothing and I suffer for having done it.

    Anytime someone asks me about my experience, I tell them straight forward of what went on and how I felt afterward. I don’t tell people not to do it but to make a decision based upon facts about the procedure as well as to take into consideration what people who have been through it felt.

    By the way, I have Bipolar II. I’ve been on 21 meds in 3 years. So yeah, I was desperate. I still am but will never do ECT again. Ever.

    • Hi Pamela,

      You’re the first person I’ve ever heard say that but I completely know what you mean. It feels like they’re injecting acid into your veins. I despised it and dreaded it too. The only comfort was that I knew it would be very short-lived as right after they give it to you, you’re asleep, of course.

      I’m sorry you had that experience and I’m sorry it didn’t help. And I’m sorry your (stupid) insurance company wouldn’t pay for more treatments as most people need between 9 and 12 in an index series. Of course, maybe that was better for you in the long run.

      – Natasha Tracy

      • Natasha, I could introduce you to a lot of people who have been devastated by ECT treatment. If it works for you fine, but I think is important not to refer to the memory loss as a ‘bothersome side effect’. I would say it is an effect and a lot more than bothersome.

        I don’t think that ECT is ever necessary or humane. Lets remember that doctors are using this treatment on the premise that it works but they do not no why. If an individual with a REAL medical condition is given any kind of medical treatment, the doctors have at least half an idea if not a fully informed idea of what that treatment is actually doing that is helping that person.

        Let’s not forget that ECT was initially given to people in insane asylums on the following presumption: Psychiatrists made an observation that individuals with epilepsy did not suffer with mental health problems. On that observation they came to the conclusion that epilepsy and mental ‘illness’ could not occur together. Therefore they came up with the crazy idea to induce epileptic fits to apparently wipe out the mental ‘illness’.

        If someone gets to such a despairing point, after a lot of intervention from a mental health team, clearly they are not getting the correct help. Therapy is the answer to overwhelming experiences, community, support and safe and nurturing environments. Not administering chemical lobotomies and frying someones brain with electricity.

        If someone is suicidal there is a legitimate reason why they want to die and that reason needs to be explored. People don’t want to kill themselves for no reason.

        I am not disputing that it didn’t work for you. You are saying it did and I have no reason to dispute or disbelieve you…but I think you need to give a more balanced argument here. Out of the people I know that have had ECT, none of them are thankful they received it and some are completely devastated by it.

        • Hi Flo,

          And I could introduce to you many people who owe their lives to ECT. In fact, some of them have commented here. ECT works when nothing else does for many people and I’ll be darned if I let someone were to take that option away.

          Memory loss _is_ a bothersome side effect. As to _how_ bothersome, it depends on the individual. Some people find it nothing (or have very little to none) and some find it very problematic.

          And doctors use many treatments and don’t know why they work. Curious as to how seizure disorders are treated? How about this: “The precise mechanism(s) by which lamotrigine exerts its anticonvulsant action are unknown.” http://www.rxlist.com/lamictal-drug/clinical-pharmacology.htm

          And this: “The mechanism by which gabapentin exerts its analgesic action is unknown,” http://www.rxlist.com/neurontin-drug/clinical-pharmacology.htm

          But maybe you think people with seizures “aren’t sick” or “shouldn’t be treated” because we don’t know how treatment works. We treated people with _aspirin_ literally for 100s of years before we understood it. Medicine is like that.

          And we _do_ have ideas about how ECT works: http://natashatracy.com/treatment/neurostimulation-treatment/ect/electroconvulsive-therapy-ect-work/

          You may think “therapy is the answer to overwhelming experiences, community, support and safe and nurturing environments” but that doesn’t solve everyone’s problem. It would be nice if that were true, but this isn’t Candyland. And even if it _were_ the case, which it isn’t, people don’t necessarily have access to it regardless.

          ECT is _not_ an electrical lobotomy. Do I sound lobotomised to you?

          And saying someone has a reason to want to die simply shows your lack of experience with suicidal people. Yes, everyone has a reason for everything they do, it doesn’t mean it is rational, reasonable or not a delusion.

          And actually, ECT did not work for me. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. Studies, literally decades of them, proves that it does.

          – Natasha Tracy

          • “My lack of experience with suicidal people”? Well you certainly seem to know a lot about me even though you have never met me. That isn’t the first time you have made an assumption about what my experiences are and have been.

            And BELIEVE me I know this is not Candyland…I never suggested it was.

            I don’t believe there is such a thing as irrational or delusion. Anything that anyone experiences is completely rational to that person and makes complete sense to them and it ALWAYS has valuable meaning. We call things irrational when we don’t understand it or when we don’t agree with it or we are just plain frightened.

            I know there is not enough access to proper talking therapies and supportive communities and that is why I am doing my bit to try and change that. Done correctly those things can and do help people. I am not trying to say that everyone must never take psychiatric drugs and always have therapy. I am saying though that people should have both options offered to them. I would imagine that in an initial assessment (I am talking about if it is the first time you have ever sought help for your experiences), if someone was presented with both, I should imagine they would give the one that doesn’t have unwanted physical effects and potentially lifelong physical health problems, a go first. If they don’t I have NO problem with that whatsoever, it is their choice and they know what is best for them and no one else.

            I have read blogs of yours when you were having the ECT treatment and after. It’s fantastic writing…beautifully written and it articulates so well what you were feeling. I really got a sense of who you were, what you were going through. With your recent blog entries you seem like a different person with a dramatically different view point. I don’t really get to understand how you feel or what you are going through or who you are in these blogs…you seem very far away and, if I am honest, angry. Of course, that is my personal opinion, I don’t know that you are angry and I can’t really tell over the internet but it is my personal interpretation all the same. It’s a shame…you are are a talented writer.

          • Hi Flo,

            You’re right, my mistake.

            How many people have you worked with who are suicidal? Schizophrenic? Depressed? Bipolar? Personally, I’ve talked to many, many of these people. In fact, I’ve been involved in saving some of their lives, but that’s me.

            And I know people with delusions and they will quite happily tell you, once they are out of their delusional state, that their delusions were a product of a sick brain and meant nothing. For example, thinking you are Eve from the Garden of Eden? Not sure what there is to learn there but the person in question was pretty grate that someone got her clothes on her in spite that it went against her delusion.

            And as for me being angry, I’m not. I’m not an angry person at all, actually. I am, however, often frustrated at the stigma I see around mental illness and mental illness treatment not to mention the ignorance. I write pieces of all variety and certainly not all of them have the least tiny of ire but you’d have to read my works on multiple sites to really get the gist of that. This is _my_ site and thus is subject to _my_ view and that tends to be a strong view. Not angry, simply passionate. There is a difference.

            – Natasha Tracy

            • It’s quite amusing that unless I explicitly point out that I have had experience of either being with people who experience overwhelm or having experienced overwhelm that you are not prepared to take me seriously. Why do people have to have some kind of badge? But if you must know I can BRIEFLY explain to you my experiences that according to you means I “didn’t need help badly enough” (I didn’t realise there was a point at which you officially “need it bad enough”)

              At 19 I had a breakdown and went and saw my doctor, who referred me to a psychiatrist, who admitted me to hospital. I heard angry, threatening voices that told me to hurt myself, kill myself and kill others. I was extremely paranoid, I had all sorts of theories about parallel universes, evil spirits that worked for the Devil (who I believed I was in direct contact with), ideas that I had to find the Devil and kill him and rid the ‘real world’ (because this one was hell) of evil then kill myself and return to the real world as essentially a martyr. Whilst believing this I threatened two people with kitchen knives (that is how strongly I believed this). I had beliefs that the MI5 had inserted a chip into my head that was being used to control my thoughts via transmitters that I believed were everywhere…I deduced this idea from the fact that I could actually FEEL the chip in my head and I could FEEL the chip vibrating when it was receiving transmissions which, in turn, made my brain vibrate. I had ideas that my water was contaminated and at one point wouldn’t drink or wash in the water. I had visions constantly of men that I assumed were spies and persuing me. The presenter on the news would often communicate with me.

              On top of that, previous to my first admission, I was starving myself and dropped to a dangerously low weight, I would often just collapse when out running because I was putting my body under that much strain. I would often take 30 laxatives when I did it or I would purge until I started to see blood in the toilet. Sometimes I would eat 3/4000cals in one sitting. I had been addicted to hard street drugs, including Heroin in an attempt to silence the pain and noise I was experiencing. I self harmed 3/4 times a day and had been doing so since I can remember. Burning, cutting, hitting, punching myself and banging my head on walls. I spent an awful lot of time entertaining rituals that mainly focused around counting and cleaning.

              I have had periods where I ‘freeze’ for hours on end and that could be anytime, any place…doctors would call that catatonia. I would become paralyzed, unable to move and would stay like that for hours.

              I overdosed so many times I lost count. I have been dragged away, handcuffed by groups of policeman, kicking and screaming from train station platform edges and bridges over motorways because I was trying to kill myself because I was that low and that fed and exhausted with my life.

              I would have frequent panic attacks because I would get THAT scared. I have 94 dissociated parts of myself which means I would have LARGE periods of time when I was NOT conscious.

              What did the Mental Health System do for me? Well, for 5 years I was in an out of hospital like a yoyo. I was sectioned by police in my hometown so many times that I was starting to get a reputation. The labels I received during the 5 years I spent as a patient were: Major depressive illness, EDNOS, Borderline Personality Disorder, Schizoaffective disorder and Schizophrenia. I was put on all sorts of drugs to cure me of my ‘mental illness’ and was finally deemed a treatment resistant schizophrenic. Then they put me on Clozapine the ‘gold standard’ drug. I was now taking 14 pills every night: Clozapine, Chlorpromazine, Aripiprazole, Sodium Valporate, Venlafaxine and diazepam…this was to be my lifelong drug regime…every_single_night.

              I gained over 8stone in weight, I became incontinent, I was so sedated I was sleeping around 14 hours a day (and any extra I could fit in here and there), I could fall asleep at the dinner table, my menstruation even stopped, I spent a lot of time hooked up to ecg machines because I would experience heart palpitations. I_had_given_up. I went to get help from the so called professionals and this is what they did to me. ECT came on the cards but it was extremely brief because I outright refused and also because I was lucky.

              2 years ago, I got out of the mental health system, I came off every last ounce of my medication, rejected the idea that I have a disordered, diseased or degenerate brain (which is what I had been fed for 5 years) and sought help from a psychologist that was willing to actually listen to my experiences that everyone else was calling delusional and help me to make sense of them. Every last belief I used to have had meaning and relevance to my life. If you wish for me to elaborate I can….just ask. He used voice dialogue to speak to my voices to find out why they were there (I had been hearing aggressive voices since around the age of 9).

              Now I have voices that are friendly, that respect me and help me in my life. I do not believe what I used to believe at all anymore. I eat well (or as well as the next person) I very rarely self harm (in the last year I have probably cut 2/3 times), I have dropped a lot of the rituals (although I still hang on to some but then who doesn’t have rituals?).

              I am at university studying psychology and I hope to go on to become a clinical psychologist. I don’t ‘work’ with anyone, that is patronizing and makes it sound like I am more knowledgeable than someone else on their experiences which I NEVER will be, but I am a supportive friend to a lot of people that have experiences that psychiatry labels as severe mental illness. I co-facilitate workshops and training days around experiences such as hearing voices, unusual beliefs and overwhelm for mental health workers and people with lived experiences with my psychologist. I recently co presented at The International Hearing Voices Congress this year about hearing voices. I am co-authoring a book, I also have some of my writing published in book chapters on these sorts of experiences also. I have three blogs, one of which is poetry.

              I have experienced physical, sexual and emotional abuse throughout my childhood and every last one of my experiences were my psyches creative ways of surviving. All those coping mechanisms, beliefs and voices were there to survive hell and they were all meaningful experiences.

              My story is not an isolated one…there are plenty of others that have similar stories to share. Stories of psychiatric drugs, labeling and ECT before breaking free of the system and making sense of there experiences and respecting them…not writing them off as illness. Many people who were once written off as severely mentally ill, only to ditch there methods and go on to achieve great things.

              So before you ever suggest that I don’t know what I am talking about because I haven’t been there or I wasn’t that bad…I would think again. Because it is just NOT true.

              If people find their medication helpful then fine. But just like you don’t want to take away the option of ECT, I do not want to take away the option of doing it without drugs and labels. It is not dangerous or irresponsible…it works time and time again. I would have liked the choice when I sought help at 19…I didn’t get presented with the alternative to the medical model of emotional distress. If I had I would have taken it. People shouldn’t feel that taking these pills which can have serious physical implications both in the short term and long term is the ONLY option. Because it isn’t

  42. A strong argument could be made that ECT is more humane and less intrusive to the brain than drug therapy. Chemicals like seratonin re-uptake inhibitors and those interfering with dopamine movements floating around, not to mention all the others that people take . . . left in our most precious personality centre. What kind of long-term effects might these things have on our grey matter? No one knows! ECT is clean, brief, and non-invasive.
    Carrie Fisher blogged earlier this year that she was undergoing several sessions of ECT in between giving on-tour performances of her one-woman show. She felt it had a beneficial effect. I also know several folks who have tried ECT with varied results, but none would call it “barbaric” or warn all and sundry to keep away.
    I thank my drugs for keeping me stable and away from suicide. Had none of them worked (which happens to more people than one may think) I’d have been just as glad to try ECT as the alternative to death. Seems an obvious, logical move to me.

    • Hi Paul,

      Yes, Carrie Fisher is one of the biggest, outspoken proponents of ECT and it has worked well for her over many years, from what I understand. I can only imagine the hate mail that poor woman must get.

      When I decided to do it, it just seemed logical to me too. Unfortunately, some people would rather emotionally scream than think.

      – Natasha Tracy

  43. I talked with a friend about ECT over this weekend and he read about it and said, “Wow! Cure! Why would anybody not want to try this FIRST and not have to take pills? Give it to everybody!”

    Yeah. I had to explain to him about the problems when psychology as a field first embraced lobotomy as a cure-all and then embraced much less cautious versions of shock treatments as cure-alls, and why we were all a whole lot more careful about *Brain Surgery* these days.

    However, the other side of that is that while we’re being careful about brain surgery, it’s a bad idea to throw the baby out with the bath water. When we get a mental illness, something has gone wrong inside our brain.

    (Usually since the illness is genetically influenced, I think the problem is bigger than that. I think over time they’re going to find the metabolic pathways through which the brain breaks–while the brain is breaking, other things in the body are breaking, too–it’s just the brain damage we notice soonest and most. But that’s just my guess about what I think the scientists are going to eventually find.)

    Anyway.

    It makes sense that sometimes a very careful, limited surgical procedure in the brain can do some kind of good at rewiring some kind of problem, once we start building a picture of what a “problem” brain looks like and what a “healthy” brain looks like.

    We’ve got a pretty darned good data set by now of what “problem” brain images look like and what normal, healthy brain images look like.

    We are not working in a total void as far as looking at scans of the brains of living, intact patients and being able to say, “that’s sick and broken” versus “that’s healthy and normal.”

    • Hi JulieC,

      Yes, some doctors believe that ECT should be tried much sooner in a patient’s treatment, rather than as a last resort. I’m not sure I agree with this, but it’s an interesting perspective from people who see the wins all the time.

      Actually, I asked a doctor once how many people she saw that were unsatisfied with their ECT treatment and she said “none” except for those who “woke up on the table.”

      Um. Yes. I would say that’s unsatisfactory alright. (This is very rare, of course.)

      So I think more people are satisfied with the treatment than most give it credit for, it’s just that we don’t hear from them.

      And as for surgery, deep brain stimulation is the closest we’re seeing right now and that scares the begeebers out of me.

      – Natasha Tracy

      • hi Natasha, all I can say is I had ECT, and since I’ve had such devastating memory loss, (just after 12 shocks,) that I have thought about suicide a lot more because of the “treatment.” 100,000 people is a lot of people to dupe into doing this yes barbaric procedure which is my belief…Its more voltage to the brain, (ampiers) than in the past that Ernest Hemingway got the un-modified version.

        I want to write more, but about lack of truthful informed consent, and the myriad of messages on the Dr. Oz show in protest of ECT who had also devastating memory and “global cognitive” loss from ECT, but I literally would have to read my notes in order to say all that I would like.

        Furthermore, the effect the “euphoria,” probably works many now have studied from the trauma of the shock and convulsion, like the high many report after a head injury…the studies showing all the horrible things it does to the brain I could also pull up, but it’s too painful to read for me at this point.

        ECT is a travesty against anything moderately civil or humane…I wanted to sue my ECT doctor, and talked to many lawyers, it also didn’t help me at ALL…so it’s “ok” that some can’t think, remember, feel more suicidal after ECT and some fair fine? That’s ok in your eyes?

        Do you have any idea how many people also can’t function, became vegetables virtually after ECT? I can cite my friend Susan Schecter who had a photographic memory, after 7 shocks and convulsions she sleept for 18 hours a day for years, totally amnesic.

        Kitty Dukakis has talked of a huge amount of memory loss, some studies suggest that ECT could cause in some a degenerative state as they get older like Alzheimers.

        Also you really haven’t replied to the many “bad outcomes” written here…it’s like you ignore them and choose the congratulate the winners.

        I think your wonderful, and very intelligent, I just disagree with your defense of this practice.

    • Hi TR,

      That’s one of my favorite expressions and it reminds me to walk away from certain people on a pretty much daily basis. I did very little “reasoning” with the woman in question but her rant lasted pages and pages. I can only assumed she enjoyed herself due to the length of her diatribe. That is why I decided to expand upon the comment here. It gives me time and space to say my piece without character limitations or assassinations.

      ECT has helped many, many people, many of whom who could be helped by nothing else, but most people don’t want to talk about it. And who can blame them?

      – Natasha Tracy

  44. Thanks for this post.

    Two people close to me have had ECT.

    One of them had it in the 1960’s and it helped, They were then put on long term Valium and lived a ‘tranquil’-zed life. That was until in the 1980’s and they shifted housing and came under the care of another Doctor and was quite rightly taken off the Valium and on to better anti depressants. A major relapse occurred requiring hospitalisation. Nothing seemed to shift the depression, so they tried ECT again this time with some caffeine to help stimulate nerve endings I assume. It worked and they recovered fully with minimal memory loss.

    The other person I was supporting and had had multiple ECT over many years, some of it was experimentally abusive. It did help his depression but there was memory loss. It didn’t take away of course some of the thinking errors that surrounded his depression, or the mental scaring from his abuse. Sadly this week he died in a very tragic way.

    When people think ECT i often think the remember scenes from One flew over the cuckoos nest. I believe that treatment has advanced since then.

    ECT has a bad rap sheet, its an area that needs more research and maybe anti-stigmatised.

    thanks for your great work.

    • Hi Barry,

      Thanks for your comment. I do my best to try to anti-stigmatize the treatment as so many people get it every year. All those people deserve better. They’re going through things that are tough enough.

      – Natasha Tracy

  45. Good post. Well said. We have enough trouble with people who don’t have a mental health problem judging us without one of our own turning against us as well!

  46. Thank you so much for this! I have just started the process of being approved for ECT cause it is the only option I have left. I am scared, but finally have hope that I might see a brighter future.

    • Hi Erin,

      I think it’s quite reasonable to be scared. I was petrified. But you’re right to look to the future and to hope.

      If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me and I’ll help if I can.

      – Natasha Tracy

    • While there’s probably nothing that can be said that can erase the trepidation you are feeling, I do wish to share with you another “success” story.

      ECT changed my life, and the lives of those close to me. It brought me back from the dark edge.

      It was not without cost, for me. My memory difficulties are apparently more profound than most. Yet, for me, it is without a doubt, the best treatment available.

      I wish you the very best.