Is Electroshock Therapy “ECT” an Effective Treatment?

Is Electroshock Therapy or Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) an effective treatment? There seems to be some debate about the effectiveness of what seems like an outdated or cruel treatment for severe cases of mental illness, particularly depression. Surprisingly, it is also sometimes used to treat postpartum psychosis.

Read more at jennifermoyer.com/2012/is-e...

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  • Hi Jennifer, welcome to the site. It's an interesting question, I don't have any personal experience of ECT & (with my limited knowledge) previously I'd always thought of it as extreme but I know plenty say it really helped them. I'll be very interested in reading the comments & thoughts from women who've had it, it'll certainly make a thought provoking thread! Thanks for posting.

  • Thank you, Andrea! I have been getting some interesting comments on my blog site. You can check them out at this link :

    jennifermoyer.com/2012/is-e...

  • Jennifer, I am new to this and to blogging so ....

    Here goes! Yes, Andrea, you are right - it is a very thought provoking question.

    I underwent a series of ECT treatments while in hospital 27years ago. I found it a horrific experience. It was a steep learning curve for all my family as much as it was for me at the time.

    I can remember the whole experience clearly even after so long. At the time I just had to trust the Doctors, and accept that what they advised was right for me.

    I do feel it maybe a question to ask the professionals who are currently treating women for PP with ECT how effective they think it is. I am sure things must be very different now?

    Has anyone more recent experience?

  • Catharine,

    Thank you for sharing.

    I am sorry to hear of your negative experience. Yes, it seems ECT has improved since your treatments. Finding from comments on my blog that there are good and bad experiences. You can check the comments out at the following link.

    jennifermoyer.com/2012/is-e...

    Thanks you for commenting.

    ~Jennifer~

  • Hi Jennifer,

    I am also new to blogging.

    I also had ECT nearly 27 years ago, at the time I was diagnosed with PP within a week after giving birth to my daughter. I had PP quite severly and didn't really understand how ill I was or what was wrong with me. Like Catharine I can cleary remember many aspects and also had no choice of my treatment. I had never suffered from depression before my daughter was born and haven't since. ECT worked for me and I am now very grateful that I had it but at the time it wasn't just receiving ECT that caused me distress! The very fact that it was so taboo that I couldn't talk about my experience. Back in 1985 very few health professional had come across PP and my own GP had no experience with it. I was lucky as my ex father law at the time was a GP and he recognised that something was very wrong and therefore I got help very quickly. I was admitted to hospital and had several treatments along with medication. I continued to have a few treatments as an outpatient and came of the medication after about 3 months. The whole experience knocked my confidence and I wasn't back to my old self for about 12 months.

    I Have just seen the Tonight programme on BBC 2, a section was on PP and ECT was mentioned by a fellow sufferer. Did you see it?

  • Thank you for sharing your story. So far the feedback I am getting on ECT is more on the positive side. Sounds like your outcome has been positive. I hope you are continuing to do well.

    I did not see the BBC 2 program as I live in the US. Not sure if there is a way to view a recording of it online. I will look in to it. Thanks for letting me know about it.

  • Hi Kaza1205

    I experienced PP in 1985 too. I was diagnosed after 3 weeks of giving birth, and it sounds as though we went through similar experiences. I am glad to hear that ECT worked for you, and maybe it did for me too! Yes, it also took me 12 months or so to recover and I hope that by sharing together we will encourage others through APP.

  • I had ECT 4 years ago. 5 days after the birth of my Son I developed PP and went into a Mother & Baby Unit for 2 months then came home for a couple of weeks and slipped into deep depression. I then readmitted myself and ended up being there for 5 months. I had never experienced anything of this magnitude before, no previous mental health issues. I was then diagnosed with Bipolar. ECT was almost my final resort as nothing could get my out of this depression. I agreed to have it, at the time I hoped this would kill me, morbid I know but back then life wasn't worth living. I ended up have 11 out of 12 treatments and this I thank for kick starting me back into recovery. Not a nice thing but you are unaware of what happens and staff make it as pleasant as possible. For family it wasn't a great experience but they were confident in the staff and knew I'd get better. 4 years later I am leading a normal life, in full time employment have a gorgous bou and wonderful husband who support me every step of the way. Hope this helps!!

  • Thanks for sharing your story. So good to hear of such a positive outcome.

  • I had ECT 14 years ago for peuperal psychosis. It made me better in the sense of resolution of psychosis where medication had failed but had a profound effect on me. I was very against the treatment as my grandmother had had it and it had reduced her to a shell. I only accepted the treatment because I was so powerless and everyone was telling me it was the right thing. I had no negative effects physically beyond an immediate headache but psychologically I felt invaded and blamed my well meaning partner for his role in encouraging me to have it. I think the situation now would be different in terms of consideration of use of the Mental Health Act to authorise this treatment as I did not have capacity and had to be pressured to consent although this was not informed consent as I was too unwell. I know the treatment has moved on since my grandmother was subjected to it and there are a range of questions to ask (see ECT anonymous) to clarify risks but I welcome the change in the law that this treatment can now only be given legally where the individual lacks capacity of agrees to it with capacity. I now have an advance directive that I only want this treatment in an emergency, I would never say never as I know sometimes it is the only effective treatment but my recovery from this treatment given against my wishes and not within a legal framework took years.

  • Thank you for sharing your story. My situation was similar to yours in that I was not in frame of mind to make decision about receiving ECT. I was backed into a corner. I just wanted to be well again so I had the treatment. I do not think I would ever have it again.

  • Without exaggerating, I think ECT really quite literally saved me and I might not be still here without it. I had a severe episode of PP in 2009; medication wasn't working, nothing was getting through to me. I had been in a general hospital psychiatric ward, then a more specialist ward of a psychiatric hospital before being transferred to a M&B unit there when well enough. I had no capacity, I can barey remember much of the early days and weeks of my illness. But as I was sectioned under the MHA, they started a course of ECT literally as a last resort. I'd stopped eating and drinking and nothing else was working. I had a fairly extensive course I think and can remember the last few sessions, which I did consent to as I believe it really helped me. But it does have a bad reputation and seems scary on the face of it. I think it can really help people, it did me anyway. Hope this helps.

  • So good to hear your positive outcome. Thank you for sharing.

  • I think it was effective on me as a last resort. I had two episodes of what I now know was PP (thanks to Prof Jones and the APP team) in the early 70's and early 80's. I was sectioned twice for my own safety as I attempted self-harm. At the end of the sessions when I was coming out of my dark place I found the experience quite frightening (especially in the 70's) but it was necessary I know now. Thankfully I have two wonderful, loving children and am so thankful that nowadays APP is 'out there' for women who need such support.

  • Thank you for your comment, Lilybeth. I can only imagine going through PP back then when little was known. I had a hard enough time in the mid 90's. Yes, thankfully, there is much more support available today.

  • I recently two years after my child was born have been hospitalised and given ect I have had this in the past after my first baby was born nearly twenty years ago now..and i suffered very bad memory loss and developed epileptic seizures which my doctors are well aware of.my partner was not informed the hospital were giving me it again and neither were my family members. I believe the doctors decision was very wrong because I was coping even though I'd had some post natal depression during those two years.i don't know if anyone has knowledge of a woman's rights on this website.who can offer me advice. I was on a section 2 at the time I believe and i was never given (nor were my family) given any documents or advised the doctors thought i lacked capacity and what concerns me is I was let off the section by a tribunal who advised me to go through my solicitor because the treating doctor won't admit me having had ect.the fact is I'm far from stupid and past ect treatment caused me a massive whole in my tongue where you bite down on the gum shield as they attatch the electrodes to your head and switch the machine on.and i developed the similar whole on my tongue this time.when i asked the doctor to look at my tongue and tell me what THEY thought had happened they refused and the doctor just said "oh did you bite your tongue" and yes to me it is a barbaric and draconian way of treating a human being and I and my family are fully aware I only went into hospital due to stress and my own doctors even say it is never the best place for me because it makes me worse.yes this all sounds confusing but I'm just trying to lead a normal family life and now it's been turned upside down again and I'm not being given any explanation as to the doctors and hospital actions.any other advice from anyone would be most welcome.thanks

  • Serena,

    My heart breaks for you hearing your story. I do not know the laws and rights in the UK as I live in the USA but it does not seem right that you have been and are still being treated negligently. If you can, I would, either myself or with the help of a loved one, research what your rights are as a patient, who experienced and are experiencing what you did. I imagine there are some laws in the UK that protect patients' rights. I wish I knew more. Maybe someone from the APP Network can direct you to resources and or information. I imagine it is very frustrating for you. Don't give up as proper care and assistance are out there for you.

    My Best to You,

  • Hi,

    I am very new to the whole world of peuperal psychosis as I have just had my first baby seven months ago. I spent about five days at home where everything was wonderful..I felt that I was doing brilliantly..I had next to no sleep but I had an unbelievable mount of energy and brain power!.After breaking down as I thought my child was TOO PERECT!!

    I was transferred to a phychiatric hospital for a month after her birth. In ways I was lucky unlike other sufferers I have read about as depression never kicked in.. I was euphoric for the whole time... I saw my newborn as the next Saviour of the world.. She was here to save us all and I was as content in myself then as I have ever been in my whole life and as I probably ever will be...

    I normally would be the 'glass half empty' type of person but for the first time in my life I was confident, self assured and as a bonus I had the most perfect little being to call my daughter... FOR ME life was fantastic, for my husband and family life had never been worse...the person that they always knew to be realistic and in control was so far out of control and so unbelievably spiritual that they didn't recognise me.... I had the need to know about everything.. In my time in the hospital I wrote continuosly about how I would solve all my family and friends problems...I was in the perfect heavenly place and I had the opinion that nothing could hurt me as I was in a place where I had already experienced death(I thought I had died giving birth) and I was there to guide others. I knew the bible stories inside out I could do suduko(something I could never do before) and other brainteasers like I was an absolute genius..

    My brain was literally on fire...all the chemical reactions going on were linking my past presnt and future and any time I talked to my phychiatrist, other patients or family I had to know all about them so that I could 'fix' their problems!! Little did I know that I was the one with the problem and that my brain was firing on all possible cylinders and if it wasn't slowed down it could more or less explode and die....so there's where ECT saved my brain and me... I had four sessions of ECT treatment and each time I returned to my room in the hospital reality hit home...I began to realise why my husband looked so tired and stressed..I began to understand why the things I had been saying were humorous or sad for them at times.

    I never heard of peuperal psychosis until I came out of the hospital and my husband explained to me what my illness was called and told me about how I had behaved in the previous month...It's only now that I want to read more about it and hear about other women's stories....

    I go back to work in a few weeks and I go back as a mother now but also as someone who has gone through an episode of illness that will change my life for ever.. I realise now how important my husband and family are to me...They listened to so much from me both good and bad and still stood by me.I also realise how unimportant material things are, how unimportant looks are.

    As long as you find contentment in yourself ,life on earth can be heavenly....silly things don't matter if you're truly happy in yourself. I've no doubt life will throw a lot more horrible things my way but after going through this I'm that bit more stronger and able to deal with things.

    My only wish is that other pregnant women and women in general should be made aware of this as a potential illness after giving birth....that way they may be able to identify it earlier and may not need to spend as much time in hospital and it would also safeguard their health and the health of their loved ones.

    My thoughts and prayers are with other women who are going through PP at this time x

  • Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experience. It is good to hear that ECT helped you.

    I, too, was thrown into the world of postpartum psychosis. For me it was when my son was 8 weeks old. My family and I did not even know postpartum psychosis existed so we were ill equipped to deal with it at the time. Although it has been a long and difficult road at times, it has forever changed me. It has been 17 years since I was struck with PP and it is still an under-addressed illness. I am living proof that it can be overcome so I now do my best to increase awareness and education on postpartum psychosis and mental health issues related to childbearing.

    You are so right that there should be more information presented to women and families so they do not suffer from an illness that can be prevented and with proper care and treatment can be overcome.

    I am glad you are doing better. It is good you found the APP Network. It is a great resource. Not sure if you live in UK or USA but another great resource is Postpartum Support International (www.postpartum.net). Take care of yourself.

    Blessings to you and your family.

    ~Jennifer~

  • Jennifer,

    Thank you so much for taking the time to reply to my post..I am delighted a site like this exists as it makes me aware that I am not on my own when dealing with post partum psychosis...I am from the UK and I will take your advice and check out postpartum.net.

    Thanks again,

    Purplerain

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