ECT “Shock Therapy” Is Still Being Performed As A “Last Resort”

Maybe this doesn’t apply to you.  Maybe it does.  Maybe it’s been you…maybe it’s been someone in your fam.  Whatever the case this convo is a necessary part OF the over MH conversation, & it’s impt that it be discussed in the context of overall treatment.

I’ve never shared my “ECT” or electroconvulsive therapy (something many think only happens in the movies) story.  So…here goes:

My first & only time in a psych ward, which I was fortunate enough to go to voluntarily, I was transferred to what I was told was their “top treatment facility center w their top docs.”

For the purposes of this discussion, I’m not gonna go into the septic/cold nature of the ward, the food, the nurses. Focusing on ECT for now seems to be more appropriate, given the news of this article. 

On the 1st day I arrived, I met w the attending psychiatrist, w more degrees than I could count. She looked at my chart (50+ drugs tried, 23 sessions of TMS tried), looked at me & said something I’ll never forget: “You’ve tried everything there is, your last resort is to do shock therapy.” This was before I knew anything abt other modalities. What do you do when your life feels like it’s hanging by a thread, & a “top expert” tells you it’s your last resort? I complied.

At any given time there were 30 patients on the ward floor. Here’s what sucked: not a single other patient was getting/went on to get ECT in my 5 wks there. Translation to myself: I’m the most F’d up in the ward.

The ECT itself was awful. You can’t eat the night before. Vitals taken in the morn.  You’re rolled in a wheelchair to the “ECT suite.” Sit in a waiting room like any docs office. The door eventually opens, & I was wheeled in to a room no bigger than a dentist’s office. Laid on a reclined table. Oxygen mask put on me. Sneakers taken off so they could put a blood pressure cuff on my ankle. Electrodes placed on my head like in this pic. Inside of elbow swabbed for where I’d get my general anesthesia needle. 2 docs, 2 nurses.

My 1st of 12 treatments I turned to the doc who’d be administering the shock to my brain to induce a seizure & asked: How does this work? His response: “We don’t really know. Initially it was given to epileptic patients hoping that by inducing seizures, we would reverse their normally occurring seizures. But that didn’t work. That said, some of the patients who had described feeling depressed before, claimed that after the treatment, they no longer felt as depressed. So now, we use it as a last resort treatment w patients who are otherwise treatment resistant.”

You heard that right – no concrete data. Anecdotal evidence. Measuring something that can’t really be measured. Because patients said “it helped” on something  they weren’t even being treated for, this is a go-to practice that hospitals now use, bill to insurance companies & get away with!!

Last resort! Those two words are a big part of the reason I started this organization.  NO patient (physical or MH) should EVER have to hear those words.  I hadn’t been tried on yoga, meditation, CBT, DBT, breathing practices, etc., & syet these experts & this hospital were ok w shocking my brain, as a “last resort” without any viable evidence this stuff works. 

It’s mind boggling & scary for many reasons. I’m guilty of being a skeptic & thinking things are often done w $ as the primary motivator…& often even in hospital settings. I’m just glad the world is waking up to what’s going on in this business. There’s a lot more to my ward experience & ECT story that I’ll share over time. For now, I thought it was impt to open up abt this particular topic, bc we have too many ppl not being given multiple treatment options…instead being told to do things as radical as ECT (even if it works for them). There are MANYways to get to the source & heal. Unfortunately since many of them can be done at no cost they aren’t broadly talked abt. We need to change that!

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