When people who struggle with mental health do not find the relief they need from traditional approaches like medication, behavioral health programs, or group therapy, they may feel understandably discouraged.
Fortunately, there is another effective and appropriate treatment option, known as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), which may help improve the symptoms of mental health conditions while also stopping the cycle of repeat hospitalization.
What is ECT?
As Mayo Clinic notes, ECT is a procedure under general anesthesia in which small electric currents are passed through the brain, which will intentionally cause a brief seizure. Research has found that ECT may cause changes in a person’s brain chemistry that can quickly reverse certain mental health conditions.
At the San Antonio Behavioral Healthcare Hospital, licensed healthcare providers trained in ECT also give the patient a muscle relaxant, which, along with the anesthesia, ensures that the procedure will not hurt and the patient will not feel the electrical currents. Once the short treatment session is over, the patient is moved to a recovery area and undergoes several standard tests. Most patients who receive ECT treatments do so three times a week for about a month.
What Conditions Can ECT Help?
ECT is used to help treat several mental health conditions, including severe depression, mainly when it includes psychosis or a detachment from reality, a desire to commit suicide, or refusing to eat. ECT can also be appropriate for people who have treatment-resistant depression, which is a severe form of the condition that does not get better despite medications or other treatments. In addition, severe mania, which can sometimes be part of bipolar disorder and catatonia, a condition that is sometimes seen in people with schizophrenia and other mental health disorders, may be helped by ECT, as can people with dementia—especially those who have become agitated and aggressive.
Benefits of ECT
Some of the most significant benefits of ECT therapy is its effectiveness. Studies have found that it is 80% effective on average, and in some trials, it is 90% effective. This high level of success means that, in many cases, repeated trips to the hospital for treatment are no longer necessary. In addition, ECT is one of only three effective psychiatric treatments for decreasing a patient’s chance of committing suicide.
Another benefit of ECT is that people do not have to take prescription medication, which means there is no longer the risk of interactions between a treatment medicine and other drugs as well as other side effects. In many cases, ECT is covered by insurance, including Medicare, which can be an affordable option for many.
How Does ECT Help People?
ECT works by causing chemical and cellular changes in the brain and improving blood flow patterns. Researchers believe that these changes have a positive impact on the parts of the brain that are responsible for mental health.
ECT also causes a significant release of neurotransmitters, including serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, acetylcholine, and GABA. This release may essentially act as a “reset button” for the patient. It is important to note that ECT does not cause brain damage or a loss of brain cells.
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