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
And 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?
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.