6 thoughts on “Facts On ECT: Concerns With Shock Treatment

  • March 5, 2013 at 9:21 am

    I had bilateral ECT which left me in a lot of pain after treatments. Unilateral wasn’t nearly as bad. I had nearly perfect “immediate” memory afterward. For instance, I still recall the room, the name and red hair of the nurse, the sound as other patients received treatments, the electrodes being placed, the doctors tweed jacket and his voice.

    The worst thing I will never forget was when the succinylcholine hit me before the propofol. I was awake with eyes open but totally paralyzed and unable to breathe. It lasted long enough for me to feel the terror and recognize that, while I could see and hear, I could not move anything. It happened three times.

    I had a lot of “short-term” memory loss. I could recover some (but not all) of it when prompted by others or by seeing an object, etc. However, the worst is long-term memory loss. The worst because I don’t know what I don’t recall. An example would be finding love letters from someone 20 years ago and having absolutely no recollection of the person. Or finding papers from a college course and having no recollection of ever attending that school. People can tell me all sorts of things that may or may not be true and I may not be able to confirm or deny it.

    I was a high functioning programmer/analyst with amazing memory and cognitive abilities. I lost all of that and can no longer do my job.

    And finally, the treatments did not help beyond a month of stopping the “maintenance treatments” during which I was non-functional. ANY doctor who swears that ECT can only cause minor short-term memory loss in a few patients, has never had ECT and has probably not listened to the patients who may not even know how much they’ve lost for quite some time after treatment ends.

    Reply
    • March 5, 2013 at 10:56 am

      Hi msm_35: Thank you for your in-depth comment.
      This is quite a heartbreaking story because you express the vulnerabilities that ECT creates such as an inability to remember what you lost, an inability to know what the truth is, and no recollection of history. The thing that structures our identity as humans is our memory, especially our memory of past events. When this is taken from us, we become a new person, a new identity. I’m sure many people have had to re-develop their identity after ECT.

      Some research supports the idea that ECT does not cause permanent memory loss, however, I choose to listen to the patients who have received ECT and believe that memory loss is more profound than we think.
      Memory loss is a big argument and it continues to influence people away from ECT. Depression can steal your joy, motivation for life, and willingness to live. But ECT can steal your memory and identity. Which one is worse? Many are unable to weigh this. Sadly they take a chance to relive the “pain.” But I encourage people to consider whether it is worth it.

      Thank you once again for your story,
      All the best to you

      Reply
      • March 6, 2013 at 7:58 am

        Thanks much for your response, Tamara.

        I should have included the good news. After years of hospitalizations, CBT, DBT, RBT, ECT and a all sorts of meds and combinations, I have been “hospital-free” since 2006 after I received a vagus nerve stimulator. VNS and meds have kept me out of the deepest depths of depression so I can use the other tools I have to deal with my mental health issues.

        However, the FDA reversed its position on efficacy so insurance companies no longer cover VNS implantation. While VNS has long proven its success in controlling epileptic seizures, the FDA only considered tests on patients with “uncomplicated” treatment-resistant depression.

        I contend that the FDA should also have considered those who have traumatic brain injury and multiple concussions. Both of which may create electrical “imbalances” that I believe could explain why the VNS has worked so well for me.

        Perhaps with the increased awareness of the damage caused by repeated concussions suffered by athletes, someone will suggest testing VNS in that population. It shouldn’t take more suicides for someone in the medical community to look beyond medication and talk therapy (please no ECT!)

        As my VNS nears the end of its battery life, I am quite anxious about what lies ahead. If the insurance companies would look at the savings between repeated hospitalizations versus the cost of VNS replacement (lasting 8-10 years), it’s a no-brainer (pun intended). There are people walking around with dead stimulators in their chests who can’t get them replaced or ex-planted.

        With the FDA clearing numerous products and devices that have proven to be dangerous, how can they not support a device that works? Go figure. As you can see, I’m quite passionate about this.

        Sorry to ramble on.
        Thanks again.

        Reply
      • March 6, 2013 at 3:39 pm

        Hi msm_35: You are most welcome!

        I am glad that you have found something that can work for you. Sometimes antidepressants, exercise, nutrition, and other tools do not help people with severe and resistant depression. Although I am a big supporter of these things, you have “challenged” me to open my mind to research about VNS (vagus nerve stimulation) treatments.

        VNS is also used, in some rare cases, for chronic migraines (something I suffer). As with anything, there are risks such as:
        voice change
        infection where the surgery has occurred
        difficulty swallowing
        vocal cord paralysis
        chest pain and breathing problems, etc.

        However, some benefit while others do not. So I appreciate your view. It’s inhumane that people who have already received VNS have to live life with a device that no longer works because of insurance. This is a whole other topic we’ll have in the future on this site!

        The most important thing is that you feel better and can live with whatever treatment you have received. Weighing the pros and cons, risks and benefits is essential too.

        All the best to you!

        Reply
  • March 6, 2013 at 1:33 am

    I am a supporter of ECT. Currently, I have maintenance ECT every other week. I remember everything prior to going under anesthesia and have only a few minutes of confusion afterwards. I have minimal memory loss after having approx. 100 treatments over five years. This article is mis-titled. It doesn’t list the facts. The fact is 80% of people who have ECT improve. One hundred thousand people a year have ECT. Hospitals who give ECT treatments require signed informed consent. In my case, I need to state I am there for ECT every time I have a treatment. There is always an anesthesiologist, psychiatrist, and nurse present for each treatment. My psychiatrist checks with me before the treatment to see how the last treatment went along with checking my lungs and heart. I also have to have a physical within 30 days of the treatment so I see my family doctor frequently.

    ECT is a valuable, effective treatment. The horror stories of broken bones and trauma are based on the distant past when anesthesia wasn’t used. It would be pretty hard to break a bone when the only thing that moves during the one minute seizure is your toes!

    The 80% rate of effectiveness is impressive especially when you compare it to the 33% effectiveness of each antidepressant. My worry is not that I’ll suffer memory loss or wake early, it is that I won’t be able get the treatments I need.

    Reply
    • March 6, 2013 at 1:40 pm

      Hi Carol: Thanks for your email and perspective on this topic.

      I think what I said at the end of my article holds true, that is, that there are people and perspectives that are either going to influence you to believe in ECT or discourage you from pursuing it. I understand your view on it and you are not the only one who has made such statements.

      ECT is a controversial avenue. Supporters of ECT have tried to reduce the barbaric nature by removing the term “shock,” reducing exposure to negative stories, and promoting the treatment to be more contemporary and safer. People who are suffering greatly support ECT because nothing else has worked! This is understandable.

      But I also think that the risks involved with ECT almost outweigh the benefits for most people. In fact, many people do not want to experience retrograde amnesia, or memory loss of events that have occurred prior to treatment. Most people also do not want to experience:
      vomiting
      nausea
      confusion
      headaches
      jaw pain
      muscle ache or spasms

      Even more, there are risks with anesthesia and medical complications can result. Some people aren’t willing to experience all of this for a treatment that previously disturbed most people to simply watch. This article is to encourage a balanced perspective. But I am glad that it worked for you.

      All the best

      Reply
 

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