Most people seem to think Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a dangerous treatment often given to prisoners or to punish a patient. Others seem to think the treatment is painful and causes life long complications. The misconceptions have arisen primarily because health care professionals simply have not made an effort to educate the public.
Electroconvulsive therapy is generally performed by a psychiatrist. ECT is bona fide therapy with great benefits for certain depressed patients and is recognized by the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association, the National Institute of Mental Health, the Food and Drug Administration and the US Surgeon General's office.
Most individuals only receive 6-12 ECT sessions spread over an interval of a few months. The treatments are given 2-3 times a week for a month as an outpatient. The treatments are administered under general anesthesia and the patient is also given a muscle relaxant. The brain is connected with electrodes that are placed in specific locations over the scalp. Once the individual is asleep, an electrical current that causes a seizure is delivered. The seizure typically lasts about 45-60 seconds. There is no pain or any other visible symptom during or after the procedure.
ECT is thought to reverse depression by enhancing the release of excitatory neurotransmitters. In individuals who have acute suicidal ideations or acute depression, ECT can belief saving and is often considered the primary therapy. Other individuals who may benefit from ECT are those who have failed drug therapy or those with acute psychotic episodes.
The controversy surrounding ECT stems from results about the procedure often reported by non-healthcare professionals. Like any other mental health treatment, ECT is also not 100% effective in all individuals.
Whether to undergo ECT is a difficult choice for many consumers. The questions that are often asked is whether it will work, when it should be administered, does it have long lasting side effects or will the individual be normal afterward, are genuine concerns for all patients.