A Patient's Experience of ECT

I am writing this article as a psychiatric patient who has received, on several occasions, electroconvulsive therapy treatment (ECT). The first thing to stress is that on all occasions it has been successful in managing my difficult-to-treat depression - apart from one occasion when I had had 25 sessions and it had to be stopped as it was adversely affecting my memory (making my memory worse). My first episode of ECT was when I was only 15 years of age. I have very little recollection of this apart from it making a remarkable positive effect on my mood and assisting greatly in my recovery from the depression.

As it is a known fact if you have suffered one episode of depression-you are at higher risk of another episode than someone who has been depression free. Indeed, I have unfortunately suffered depression most of my life.

Being acutely suicidal on occasions ECT has literally helped to save my life.

My most recent ECT was in 2022. As previously the electrodes that pass the electricity through my brain had been placed bilaterally (one on either side of my head) had caused a significant loss in my long-term memory, it was decided to use unilateral treatment.

My treatments were on Monday morning at the Hadrian Clinic ECT suite. I had nothing to eat before the treatment but drank fluids up to 2 hrs before treatment. I was accompanied by my mother and had to stay with her for the 24 hrs following treatment. I had to remove jewellery.

I didn’t like walking past the ward where I had been an inpatient- but had to to get to the physical treatment centre where the ECT took place. My medical history and medication details were known to the anaesthetist and psychiatrist carrying out my treatment. The suite itself has a “warm and friendly” atmosphere and the nurses and staff are all fully trained to answer any concerns that I had.

The waiting room is small but quiet and my mother was able to sit with me in this room. I didn’t wait long before I was called in for treatment. The room itself is small and seems quite crowded- but everyone there had a role in my treatment. I took off my shoes and was assisted onto a bed. The bedsides were then raised. I was introduced to the anaesthetist-who wasn’t always the same person, and also to the psychiatrist administering the ECT. For me, it was nice to see a face I knew.

The anaesthetist placed a small mask on my face giving me oxygen to breathe. A small needle into my hand administered the general anaesthetic and muscle relaxant. I hardly felt any pain. I felt a little woozy………….then the next thing I knew the treatment was over. I honestly knew nothing about the treatment and wasn’t aware until I asked- whether I had had the treatment.

I had to breathe oxygen for a short period of time with the mask on my face. Then it was shoes on and from the recovery room straight to see my mother. We were both offered a cup of tea and biscuits. I had a slight headache- but no other short- or long-term effects. I got a taxi back to my mother’s house where I stayed overnight.

At a later date I had my memory reassessed (it had been assessed prior to the treatment). This time I only needed 8 sessions of ECT to improve my depression and I only got one question wrong in the memory test.

ECT sounds daunting; but I can hopefully reassure you that as a patient, I honestly wasn’t aware I had received it- apart from my depressive symptoms improving significantly.

In fact, as a preferred option- if my depression gets severe again- I would have no hesitation in opting for ECT treatment.