Skip to content

    Depression Health Center

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Shock Therapy: No Longer So Shocking

    ECT as Depression Treatment Is Neither Curse nor Cure

    Why Consider ECT?

    Even so, why would anybody risk ECT? It's easy to justify for patients who are so extremely depressed they can't feed themselves. But ECT also offers hope to patients whose lives have been ruined by moderate-to-severe depression.

    "Most commonly, it's someone who is clearly miserable and nonfunctional socially and occupationally," McCall says. "They are not threatening to kill themselves today. They are eating. But their life is a wreck. They cannot work, they cannot do anything to keep the house clean, they are not bathing, they are not changing their clothes. And if the patient has failed to respond to three or four medications and psychotherapy, something has to be done. And that something is ECT."

    Many patients get low-dose ECT every other week, says William McDonald, MD, director of the Fuqua Center for Late Life Depression and chief of geriatric psychiatry at Atlanta's Emory University. It's called maintenance ECT.

    "Keeping people well is what we are trying to do," McDonald tells WebMD. "What ECT does well is put people in remission -- not just response, but remission -- at very high rates. You are talking about 70% to 80% remission. And these patients are a very difficult-to-treat group. This is really positive."

    Patients Say ECT Improves Life Quality

    McCall and colleagues at New York's Columbia University looked at 283 depressed patients treated with ECT. Using standardized questionnaires, they asked them whether the patients' lives were better or worse after ECT.

    "The findings were mixed. But after treatment, 87% said ECT improved their quality of life," McCall says. "Six months out, 78% rated their quality of life as improved. At that time point the memory loss had cleared up."

    McDonald says the study findings support his own experience in treating patients with ECT.

    "McCall is pointing out that when people get ECT over time, their quality of life improves," he says. "People actually start feeling better about themselves. It's not just that their psychiatric depression score goes down -- they are better able to function in society and in life."

    ECT isn't anything like a perfect treatment. But McDonald says patients travel several hours to get the every-other-week treatment. Clearly, it's extremely valuable to them.

    Today on WebMD

    contemplation
    Differences between feeling depressed and feeling blue.
    jk rowling
    Famous people who've struggled with persistent sadness.
     
    depressed man sitting on hallway floor
    Learn the truth about this serious illness.
    Sad woman looking out of the window
    Tips to stay the treatment course.
     
    unhappy teen boy
    Health Check
    jk rowling
    Slideshow
     
    Pills with smiley faces
    Article
    Teen girl huddled outside house
    Article
     
    Depressed man sitting in hospital hallway
    Article
    antidepressants slideshow
    Article
     
    pill bottle
    Article
    Winding path
    Article