Electroconvulsive therapy

Individuals who have severe depression (with or without psychosis) often feel tormented and tortured by their symptoms. They may have lost all hope as a result of their long-term struggles and are seeking relief from their suffering. Anyone considering this treatment should know that:

  • Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is safe. It has been studied extensively and used since the 1940s.
  • It is used as part of an ‘overall’ treatment plan in combination with talk therapies and medication.
  • It is the safest treatment done under general anesthetic.
  • A full medical work-up is done before treatment is applied.
  • ECT can be considered as an option after trials with two or more medications have been unsuccessful. Consultation with the client and their family members/caregivers is part of the process before the decision to try ECT is made.

ECT is a treatment option for people of all ages – even teenagers – with severe depression. The success rate for older adults is very encouraging. Studies reveal that approximately 60 per cent of those who have ECT report an improved quality of life.

Electroconvulsive Therapy is designed to get you well. Other strategies (medications and talk therapies) are then used to help keep you well.

Side effects may result from this therapy, so it is important that the choice to have ECT be an informed decision. ECT treatment can impact memory. The degree of memory loss will vary from person to person. The two types of memory problems may include:

  • Making new memories: The person may have difficulty remembering new events. For many, this tends to improve approximately three weeks after the treatment series is completed.
  • Events of the past (autobiographical memory): There may be partial loss of some memories which tend to be for the period of time six months before the treatment started. Some people, unfortunately, have noted permanent loss of memories for events that happened many years before the treatment began. However, for many people, these memory issues often improve within six months after the treatment series has ended.

The healthcare team acknowledges that this treatment choice requires courage. It can be life transforming for individuals with severe depression. In order to make an informed decision, you will be educated about the treatment and may receive helpful, easy-to-understand information including:

  • Educational DVD.
  • Written information.

The treatment:

  • Is conducted under the supervision of a team of health professionals (psychiatrist, anesthetist and two nurses).
  • You receive an intravenous. A muscle relaxant and anesthetic are administered through the intravenous and then a small dose of electrical current (30 Joules) is applied to the forehead.
  • A series of treatments consists of eight to 12 treatments, or more if needed. Treatments are given two times per week.
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