Experiences With ECT - Electroconvulsive Therapy

Speaking from experience

These are first-person stories of experiences with ECT - electroconvulsive therapy also called electroshock therapy - from our community. They are readers, forum members, newsletter subscribers, and chatters. These stories illustrate just how different ECT can be from one person to another.

I have had numerous ECT treatments. I had bilateral treatments in 1995-96 that did nothing except destroy my memory.

However, in the past two years, I have had several courses of ECT to treat psychotic, suicidal depression and believe me, ECT was the only thing that helped at all. My psychiatrist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis recommended that I do maintenance treatments, which I did for about 3-4 months. Three months after my last maintenance treatment, my moods are stable and I am a successful graduate student. I have told my psychiatrist that he saved my life with the ECT. I hate to admit it because I find the treatments abhorrent, but I truly believe that this awful treatment has saved my life more than once.

I received ECT treatment as a last resort for a misdiagnosis of depression/borderline personality disorder. I had two series of 6 each (1992). I was working as a nurse anesthetist at a downtown charity hospital at the time and the first 6 didn't seem to interfere with my work. A second series was recommended which I reluctantly agreed to have; however, this time, I had headaches following the procedure and loss of memory.

I got to #3 and refused the other 3 - I was sure the doc was trying to kill me.

There are periods of time I cannot recall. My daughter was admitted to the hospital and I don't remember taking her! At one point the doc said it was okay to go to work once the procedure was over. When the head anesthesiologist found out, he was really upset.

When it came time to leave the hospital because I was moving out of state, he didn't want to write a good reference for me. He felt I was a liability. The fact that I had undergone ECT's ruined any opportunity I would have had in anesthesia because of the stigma attached to them. None of them brought relief to my psychological state. I felt I was at the end of the line with trying to get better. I was consumed with utter hopelessness and despair.

I had 6 unilateral ECT treatments after drugs failed to dent severe depression. They were pretty much benign and helped depression for several months. I wouldn't have bilateral ECT because of the memory problems, but unilaterals were a piece of cake.

At age 16 I was raped. I suffered severe post-traumatic shock and was taken to a psych ward. I was in a non-verbal state and the psychiatrist upon admission misdiagnosed my condition as "catatonic schizophrenia." After only four days of observation, I was started on a course of 10 shock treatments - which in and of themselves were as traumatizing as the rape. When I awoke after each "treatment" I felt completely broken, like a walking zombie.

I experienced ECT as invasive, cruel and terrifying.

Today, 25 years later, my memory and abilities to comprehend and learn are still greatly disabled. I have permanent brain damage from this form of "therapy." Shock treatment was the most horrific experience in my life. If you think you're losing your mind - have ECT, and for certain you will.

After numerous hospital visits over a two-year period, ECT treatments were presented as my last chance at controlling depression. Medications were unable to control the illness. Yes, there were annoying and upsetting memory problems immediately afterward, not remembering if I had children or had a job.

Those unpleasant and upsetting side-effects cleared by the end of the day.

I am assured that other memory lapses I have experienced are a result of the depression itself and not the ECT treatments. In retrospect, the ECT treatments allowed the depression to improve significantly to be treatable by medications alone.

About 10 years ago my Pdoc put me on lithium to try to control my mood swings. He had tried several antidepressants which had either no or negative effects. I had very bad side effects from the lithium. He became very upset and told me the only thing left to try was electroshock. I was so desperate that I agreed. After 3 sessions my nightmares worsened and became vivid when I was awake.

I begged my family to take me home. After this therapy, my condition went downhill. My concentration suffered, my anxiety increased, I slept very little, and I eventually became so agoraphobic I had to retire from my job of 31 years.

I have read where the ECT procedure has helped some people, but I think people need to do research before agreeing to undergo ECT and be aware of what could happen. ECT is not a new procedure. It has been around for a very long time.

Diagnosed with Bipolar II in 1995 after attempting suicide with various "pills."
Had worked for 20 years as LPN.
Entered private psychiatric facility and received approximately 12 bilateral ECT Rx's.
Initial short term memory loss but slight improvement of severe depression noted. Six months later had 12 more ECT.
No hospitalization since 1997, stabilized on Depakote, Lithium, Zoloft and thyroid.
I believe it was necessary for me at the time and would not have second thoughts about more ECT.
Short term memory loss is tolerable compared to constant MANIC DEPRESSION!!

Dr. G:
I had a series of 5 electroconvulsive shock treatments back in 1992. I suffer from BiPolar Disorder and was in a deep state of depression. Further, I was suicidal and had a record of several attempts. I elected ECT as the treatment of last resort. In retrospect, I wish I had not gone through with it. Memory loss, particularly short-term, was significant. I am a professional whose mind is my primary tool. The treatments rendered me useless at work and diminished my ability to remember my own phone number. I still have gaps in my memory for certain events, dates, etc., not only from that period during my treatments but also for things that occurred prior to ECT. I do not feel the benefits of ECT were realized by me and would not ever agree to them again, no matter how depressed or manic I should get.

I know they work for some folks and I certainly don't want to discourage them as a viable treatment option. For me, however, the costs far outweighed the benefits.

Tina Bartels:
About 10 years ago I had a series of 11 ECT's. They were basically painless and I had no problems (such as memory loss that some experience). They brought me out of a deep depression and I did not have serious depression for several years.

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