Electroconvulsive therapy

If you have been diagnosed with a mental health illness, and your initial treatments have not brought about the results hoped for, you may be referred for electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). We support you through your treatment to help you return to a full and balanced life.

What is electroconvulsive therapy?

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a treatment for a range of mental health conditions including depression, bipolar disorder and other psychotic disorders.

It is a very safe treatment and is used when your illness hasn’t responded well to medication or when taking medication causes too many unwanted side effects.

Studies show ECT is particularly helpful if you are experiencing severe depression. It is also used as a treatment for bipolar disorder and other psychotic disorders.

What happens during ECT

During ECT a carefully controlled electrical current is passed through the brain. This affects electrical activity in the brain, causing seizures which produces an improvement in depressive and psychotic symptoms.

ECT usually provides fast relief from symptoms, and improvement in mood. The more you participate in necessary care and management of your treatment, the more successful it will be.

An ECT treatment course is usually given three times per week. The actual length of the course is determined by how you respond to the treatment.

To maintain the positive effects, you may require ongoing treatment that allows the frequency of ECT to be gradually withdrawn.

What to expect on the day of treatment

Before treatment you are given a short-acting general anaesthetic to get you to sleep and muscle relaxant to make the procedure more comfortable. The procedure only lasts for a few minutes and you will wake up shortly after.

An anaesthetist, psychiatrist and treatment nurse are present during the procedure.

Are there any side effects with ECT?

ECT involves several treatments spread over a few weeks. As with any treatment, ECT may have side effects ranging from mild to more severe.

A common side effect is some memory impairment which is variable. Most commonly people report difficulty in remembering things that have happened just prior to ECT. A small number of people may feel disorientated and confused on waking after ECT. These effects settle within a few hours, particularly with help and support from nursing staff.

Side effects are more common after the initial ECT treatment and usually subside with subsequent treatment.

Benefits of electroconvulsive therapy

  • Fast acting relief from symptoms.
  • Suits people who can’t take medication for their condition.
  • Improves mood.

These benefits depend on your particular circumstances and require you to fully participate in necessary care and management. You should consult a specialist in this area before deciding whether treatment is suitable for you.