Electroconvulsive therapy an effective treatment for clinical depression

Electroconvulsive therapy is most commonly used to treat severe depression that has not improved with medications or other forms of therapy. It also may be used to treat other serious mental illnesses or to help prevent suicide. Electroconvulsive therapy is one of the most effective treatments for mental illness and is recognized by the American Psychiatric Association and the National Institutes of Mental Health as an important therapy for clinical or severe depression. A recent major study of electroconvulsive therapy found that it resulted in the remission of severe depression in 86 percent of people who received the treatment.

Having been studied and refined over many decades, the vastly improved techniques used today for electroconvulsive therapy can bring significant relief for patients who have not responded to other therapies. Patients receiving treatment can feel comfortable knowing they are being cared for by board-certified psychiatrists trained in the most advanced and refined methods of administering therapy.

How electroconvulsive therapy works

Electroconvulsive therapy is a type of brain stimulation therapy that involves brief electrical stimulation of the brain while a patient is under anesthesia. The electricity directly activates the brain to treat depression and other disorders. It is the oldest and most-studied form of brain stimulation therapy.

How electroconvulsive therapy is given

Electroconvulsive therapy may be given during a hospital stay, or a person may come in for treatment and then go home. Before each treatment, general anesthesia and a muscle relaxant are given. Then, electrodes are placed at precise locations on the head, and an electric current is passed through the brain. The electricity causes a brief, controlled seizure. The patient feels no pain or other effect of the seizure and awakens shortly thereafter, with no recollection of the treatment or seizure.

Possible side effects of electroconvulsive therapy

As is true with any medical procedure that requires anesthesia, electroconvulsive therapy does involve some risks. The most common side effects include short-term memory and learning problems, confusion, headache, upset stomach and muscle aches. Memory and learning problems may persist for longer in some patients but usually subside over time after completion of a course of ECT treatment.

The three-step process to start electroconvulsive therapy

  • Ask for a referral – To be evaluated for electroconvulsive therapy treatment at Main Line Health, a physician referral is required. Patients must be 18 years of age or older.
  • Receive a prescreening evaluation – Referred patients are thoroughly evaluated to determine whether electroconvulsive therapy is an appropriate therapy and to plan treatment. All steps in the evaluation are performed at Bryn Mawr Hospital and occur on the same day, if possible. A few medical conditions may prohibit use of electroconvulsive therapy or may impact treatment planning; these will be discussed with you and your referring physician.
  • Start electroconvulsive therapy – If it is determined you are a candidate for electroconvulsive therapy, the psychiatrist will tailor a treatment plan based on your needs and prescreening evaluation. An acute course of electroconvulsive therapy usually involves two to three treatments per week, for a total of six to 12 treatments. The treatments are administered in the short procedures area of the hospital by a psychiatrist, an anesthesiologist, and trained nurse. You will be monitored throughout the procedure and for about an hour afterward then discharged home. Following a successful acute course of electroconvulsive therapy, you may receive maintenance ECT, which involves less frequent treatments over an extended period of time.

The First Step 1.888.CARE.898 (1.888.227.3898)

This toll-free service is available 24/7 for inpatient psychiatric referrals and admissions.

To schedule an appointment for outpatient services, call between 8:30 am–5:30 pm, Monday through Friday. An on-staff professional will assess your needs, answer questions, help with a crisis or direct you to the most appropriate level of care.