For some people with severe or hard-to-treat depression, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is the best treatment. This treatment, sometimes referred to as "electroshock therapy," is often misunderstood and incorrectly viewed as a harsh, cruel treatment. In actuality, it is painlessly performed under general anesthesia and is considered the most effective treatment for severe depression. It can be lifesaving.
ECT works quickly, which is why it's often the treatment of choice for people with highly severe, psychotic, or suicidaldepression. For these people, waiting for antidepressants or therapy to work might be dangerous. However, the drawback is that the effects of ECT usually don't last, and further treatments will likely be necessary.
Many people find that expressing themselves -- through writing, art, or music -- helps them feel better, especially if they are recovering from depression.
Don't worry if you never thought of yourself as an artistic or creative person. The idea is not to come up with a masterpiece that will be part of a public art exhibit. In fact, you don't have to show your work to anyone else if you don't want to.
But the act of expressing yourself, of creating something original that comes out of your feelings...
With ECT, an electric charge is delivered to the brain and causes a seizure. For reasons that doctors don't completely understand, this seizure helps relieve the symptoms of depression. ECT does not cause any structural damage to the brain.
The procedure itself typically requires a stay in the hospital, although more and more it is being performed on an outpatient basis. During the procedure, you will be put to sleep under general anesthesia. You won't feel anything. Your doctor will also give you a muscle relaxant. Electrodes will be applied to your scalp and deliver an electric current. This electrical stimulation causes a brief seizure. The seizure is controlled with medications so your body doesn't move. You will wake up a few minutes later without any memory of the treatment.
The number of required sessions varies. Many people have six to 12 sessions over a period of several weeks. After initial treatment, you might require further ECT treatments in addition to depression medicine and therapy to prevent your depression from returning.
Studies have shown that ECT works for many people who have treatment-resistant depression. One study of 39 people with treatment-resistant depression compared the effects of an antidepressant with ECT. After two to three weeks, 71% of people who received ECT had a positive response to treatment. But only 28% who received the antidepressant had a positive response after four weeks of treatment. The results were published in 1997 in the medical journal Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavia.