December 5, 2013
Electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT, is known for its therapeutic benefits and has been used as a psychiatric treatment in America since the early 1940s (Sabbatini, 2007). It uses electricity to induce seizures in patients suffering from mental illnesses in order to relieve them from their symptoms. ECT is most commonly known for the treatment of major depressive disorder and other depressive symptoms, but it is also widely beneficial in treating many other symptoms and diseases including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and it can even help people who are in a catatonic state. ECT is not a life-long treatment, unlike many other psychiatric medications, and does not have the harsh side effects that many of the medications have. The patient is usually administered multiple treatments until they are no longer feeling depressed or experiencing the other symptoms of their mental illness. ECT has a very negative reputation because of the inhumane ways it has been preformed in the past (Sabbatini, 2007). It was once a very painful procedure causing patients to be injured because they were often left conscious and not given muscle relaxants which are necessary to keep the patient from flailing around involuntarily during the treatment (Sabbatini, 2007). However, today the procedure is much safer and more effective because of the technological advancements and use of anesthetics and muscle relaxants to prevent the patient from being physically harmed (Abrams, 2002). There are many misconceptions about ECT and its effects because of the negative stories people hear about the way it was used in the past, but ECT has proven to be a very effective form of treatment of many mental illnesses. In people with suicidal tendencies and depression, ECT may be a life saving treatment. This is especially true for those who have either no response, or have very harsh side effects from prescribed antidepressant medications. A large majority of people who receive ECT are outpatients, which means the people receive the treatment without ever being admitted to a hospital. During ECT, the patient is given an electric shock that induces a seizure causing their depression to decrease (Weiner, 2001). Despite many studies, it is still unknown how or why this treatment is so effective. The treatment is believed to work by stimulating a large part of the brain by releasing numerous neurotransmitters. It is thought that the electric shock somehow changes the brain’s chemistry and helps to release the chemicals that are being trapped, thus causing the patient to feel less depressed. (Weiner, 2001). Gary Kennedy, the director of geriatric psychiatry in Montefiore Medical Center states, “It reboots the system… Like turning a computer off and when it comes back on they are not as depressed” (Weiner, 2001). Although it is most commonly used for depression, ECT can also be used to treat bipolar disorder and schizophrenia (Abrams, 2002). It is used to stabilize the patient’s mood and can also be effective in stopping psychotic episodes. Once the patient is stabilized, they are better able to respond to medications and treatment (Abrams, 2002). In some cases, patients with these mental illnesses are not mentally stable enough to think clearly or make the right decisions in choosing their treatment and do not have enough understanding of what is wrong in order to talk to a psychiatrist. After ECT treatment, they can become much more competent in understanding their circumstance. Different agents have been used to induce seizures in order to treat psychiatric conditions as early as the sixteenth century (Sabbatini, 2007). In the late 1930’s, ECT was discovered to be a very effective process in treating depression and many other mental illnesses and became popular in many psychiatric facilities in the early 1940’s. After psychiatric medications had been developed, and ECT got a bad reputation around the...
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