It is time for the misinformation about Electroconvulsive Therapy to stop hindering the successful treatment of debilitating disorders such as severe depression and schizophrenia. The benefits of ECT often outweigh the risks, and the procedure can now be conducted as a safe and comfortable outpatient treatment.
The Origins of ECT
In 1934, at the University of Budapest, neurologist Ladislas von Meduna observed that after schizophrenic patients suffered seizures, symptoms, including hallucinations, delusions, and rambling speech, were reduced or completely gone.
From this observation, von Meduna used the drug cardiazol (aka Metrazol) to induce seizures and had similar results.
A short while later, at the University of Rome La Sapienza, Ugo Cerletti believed he could provide a better way of inducing the convulsions using brief electrical pulses, which would be more controllable than prescription drugs running through the bloodstream. So, with the help of his student Lucio Bini, the Cerletti-Bini electroshock machine was developed and began to change lives.
The Uses of ECT
Electroconvulsive therapy is not to be used for everyone. A careful and precise evaluation must be completed before ECT can begin. ECT is for the most challenging cases unresponsive to other therapies, such as medication or talk therapy. The most common mental health disorders treated through ECT are:
- Severe depression
- Bipolar disorder
- Severe mania
- Severe agitation
The Benefits of ECT
The most significant benefit of ECT is that it can relieve the symptoms of mental health conditions that were formerly untreatable. It is not a cure, but ECT can help people return to an everyday, productive life.
ECT is continually found to have the fastest results in treating severe mental health disorders, whereas medications and other therapies can take weeks to see any results.
Another benefit of ECT is that it may be a treatment alternative for those who cannot utilize other medications or therapies. These candidates for relief may include:
- Pregnant women
- Older adults and others who cannot withstand drug side effects
- Patients who prefer not to take prescription medications
ECT: Fact and Fiction
When the therapy was first developed in the early and mid-1900s, the patient would be awake when the electrical pulse was administered, thus resulting in the body arching as muscles contracted and the loss of other bodily functions.
Sadly, as with so many things in history that can provide benefit, it can be abused. For example, during WWII, a modified ECT was used by Emil Gelny, a Nazi psychiatrist, to execute humans who were deemed mentally ill. In addition, some institutions misused ECT to subdue patients and make them easier to maintain.
Mass media, social media, and, unfortunately, abuse and misuse throughout history have led to a grave misunderstanding about the use and benefits of ECT.
Today, Electroconvulsive Therapy is administered by a medical team including a psychiatrist, anesthesiologist, and nurses. The patient receives anesthesia and is unconscious throughout the procedure. In addition, a muscle relaxant is administered to protect the patient from the usual convulsions and possible injury.
A cuff is placed around one ankle, inhibiting the muscle relaxant from reaching that foot. The team of medical professionals uses movement in this foot and brain activity observed on the EEG to monitor convulsions.
It is still unclear exactly how ECT works. Many view it as a “reset” of the brain or a beneficial cumulative effect of changes in blood flow and brain chemistry.
At the San Antonio Behavioral Healthcare Hospital, we have seen the benefits of ECT and strongly believe in its success. We are here to help with the most difficult of cases. If you or a loved one are struggling with a severe mental health challenge or a combination of disorders, please contact us today for more information about ECT and our many other successful programs.