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Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) is a type of brain stimulation therapy used to treat a variety of mental illnesses. ECT is used most commonly to treat severe depression, especially when other treatments have not worked.

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT ) works by passing electrical currents through the brain. The electrical currents cause changes in brain chemistry that relieve symptoms of certain mental illnesses.

People who undergo ECT do not feel pain or discomfort during the procedure. It can be used safely by people who are pregnant, elderly or living with a variety of medical conditions. Research has shown that ECT can be one of the most effective treatments available.

ECT is most commonly used to treat the following mental illnesses:

  • Severe depression ( Particularly when symptoms include psychosis, suicidal intention or a refusal to eat.)
  • Long-term depression that does not improve with medication or other treatments.
  • Schizophrenia when symptoms include psychosis, suicidal intention, a desire to harm someone else or refusal to eat.
  • Bipolar disorder when symptoms include severe mania. Signs of mania include impaired decision making, impulsive or risky behaviors, substance abuse and psychosis.
  • Schizophrenia and some other psychiatric disorders where catatonia is a symptom. Catatonia is characterized by lack of movement or strange movements and difficulty with speech.

How long does ECT treatment last?

ECT treatment usually requires three sessions per week for two to four weeks. About six to twelve treatments total.
The number of treatments a person needs depends on how serious their symptoms are and how quickly they improve. People usually start to feel their symptoms improve after four to eight treatments though it can take longer.
The benefits of ECT treatment can last from several weeks to several years.
Follow-up or “maintenance” ECT sessions are often needed after the first round of treatment to keep symptoms from coming back. Maintenance ECT could be as much as one session per week or as little as one session every few months. How much, if any, maintenance ECT a person needs will depend on their situation.

How effective is ECT?

Studies show that ECT is effective 70-90% of the time (NIMH 2008). ECT is most effective with multiple treatments and for people who receive the full course of ECT treatment. ECT treatment may bring full recovery, partial recovery or, in some cases, no recovery at all.
ECT has an especially high success rate when used to treat severe depression. According to the American Psychiatric Association, 80% of people with severe depression saw their symptoms improve significantly after ECT. This is 20% higher than the average success rate for most antidepressant medications.