What Happens When You Talk About ECT?

What Happens When You Talk About ECT?

The Bipolar Burble thanks for everyone who took the time to read my electroconvulsive therapy primer and The Badger’s personal experience of ECT. Most people were really respectful in their opinions and asked great questions. As per the usual, however, electroconvulsive therapy is a controversial, contentious and polarizing topic that brings out people’s abusive side pretty quickly.

[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.]

The Goal of Sharing a Personal ECT Experience

My goal in having a personal ECT experience shared here is to provide the perspective that many people silently have – ECT works, it works quickly, and it works with few side effects. (That’s few, not none.) This is not to say this is everyone’s experience, because it certainly isn’t, but statistically speaking, most (more than half of) people have a positive response to ECT.

How Does ECT Work in the BrainI’m Promoting ECT

No, I’m not. For the record, neither is The Badger. Longtime readers know I did ECT and I didn’t like it. It didn’t work and it was painful. But that’s not the point. The point is to share an experience, in this case the experience of someone who has found ECT to be a repeatedly beneficial treatment for depression.

I’m not saying you’ll have the same positive experience. What I’m saying is that he did and unlike most people who get ECT, get better and don’t want to talk about it; he is willing to share his story. It’s a first-hand account of a real-life person.

Controversial Issues around Electroconvulsive Therapy

There are many issues people bring up when electroconvulsive therapy is mentioned. Common controversies include:

  1. ECT causes brain damage
  2. ECT applied without consent
  3. ECT is a short-term fix

For the record, I shall repeat exactly what I said in my ECT primer post:

  1. ECT kills brain cells, it’s risky
  2. I didn’t address this
  3. Yes, it generally is

ECT and Neurogenesis

ECT also appears to promote neurogenesis. Which actually increases neuron growth. But for some reason this gets glossed over. (There’s been study on neurogenesis and ECT for 11 years.)

ECT Can Kill You

Well, yes, but only insomuch as jaywalking can kill you too. As it turns out, you are 10 X less likely to die from ECT than you are from childbirth and ECT’s death rate is an order of magnitude smaller than the spontaneous death rate in the general population. So sheesh, if you’re going to say ECT can kill you, then at least cite a study, because right now I have no reason to think that at all.

I also mentioned that ECT has gotten safer over time, which is just common sense, but here’s a study.

ECT is Ineffective

Specifically for depression, which is why ECT is typically used, people cite between 60%-80% remission rates. That is stunning and far better than any antidepressant. Yes, ECT skeptics explain these numbers in many unscientific ways, but there are hundreds of studies on this stuff.

(However, ECT efficacy varies based on population to which it is applied and type of ECT. You have to know a specific situation to truly gauge efficacy.)

Patients have been Abused with ECT

Of this I have no doubt, particularly decades ago. However, there are unethical doctors just like there are unethical lawyers, police offices and garbage men. I fully support prosecuting them to the fullest extent of the law, just like anyone else.

So, Everyone Should Get ECT!

No, not at all. ECT has real dangers associated with it and those risks should be carefully weighed against the possible benefits by anyone considering the treatment. My point, is simply this, try to go by reputable data by reputable sources when you make this decision.

Too many people want to convince you of the heaven or hell of the procedure. Neither of these points of view are entirely accurate.

Good Sources of Information on ECT

The electroconvulsive therapy information provided by Mayo Clinic is easily understood but it’s not very detailed.

My new very favorite source of all things medical online is eMedicine. The downside is this is designed for medical professionals and so much of it can be difficult for some people to understand. I think it’s worth a look as it’s by doctors, for doctors and fully referenced. eMedicine ECT information includes lots on indications for usage, techniques, adverse effects and informed consent.

(More mental health and medical resources here.)


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.

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