Shock therapy: A look into some myths and facts

Shock therapy, scientifically known as Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), is a form of brain stimulation psychiatric treatment which stimulates the brain by applying brief electrical pulses of varying intensity in order to treat serious mental disorders. During ECT therapy, a brief application of electric stimulus is used to induce seizures in order to provide relief from psychiatric illnesses. This type of therapy is typically contemplated for treating severe, treatment-resistant depression, or if the patient’s illness is not showing signs of improvement with other treatments such as antidepressant medication or psychotherapy. The treatment is also used to cure other mental disorders such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

Regardless of the strong evidence of efficacy and safety about the shock therapy, there are many misconceptions that have raised concerns among patients as well as health care professionals. In fact, movies, such as “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” have also had some hand in creating these stereotyped misconceptions about shock therapy. Some of the common myths and facts associated with ECT are:

Myth 1: Employed for depression only

Fact 1: A majority of people with depression are never prescribed shock therapy, unless they have treatment-resistant depression, or are not benefitted by medication and psychotherapy. This treatment can also be used to reduce mania in people with bipolar disorder. It can be used occasionally for individuals with schizophrenia, predominantly for those who are catatonic.

Myth 2: Causes memory loss

Fact 2: After the ECT procedure, some patients may experience short-term confusion or temporary forgetfulness, which is a common symptom caused by any kind of seizure or brain deficit. However, some elderly people may experience long-lasting symptoms, continuing for several weeks after the treatment.

Myth 3: Used in mental hospitals only

Fact 3: ECT treatment can be given at any hospital or psychiatric institution on an inpatient basis, and also on an outpatient basis for less severe cases. Generally, six to 12 sessions are given to patients over two to four weeks. In some patients, maintenance ECT is given every two weeks to every month, for up to several years to prevent relapse.

Myth 4: Causes seizures

Fact 4: ECT does not cause seizures, but a person is given a seizure-inducing electrical shock during ECT procedure, which can alleviate his or her depression. In fact, ECT reboots the brain, thereby restoring some of the neuro connections, as well as reconnecting the nerves. It can also alter the levels of norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin in the brain.

Myth 5: Shocks are given without the patient’s consent

Fact 5: ECT is always given after obtaining a written consent from the patient. Moreover, the doctor discusses the pros and cons of the treatment with the patient, as well as his or her family, before proceeding.

Myth 6: Can lead to breaking of bones and tooth chipping

Fact 6: Doctors nowadays perform this treatment by administering anesthetic and muscle relaxants in order to prevent the patients from moving violently, which can lead to injuries. This prevents issues such as chipped teeth and fractures.

Mental illness can be treated

Any kind of mental illness can be treated with the proper guidance of physicians and psychotherapists. While the medications and behavioral therapy are the first line of treatment, the severe and treatment- resistant mental illness may require brain stimulation therapy such as ECT.

If you or your loved one is suffering from any kind of mental problems, such as depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder, etc., get in touch with the California Mental Health Helpline for information on the best mental health facilities in California. You may call at our 24/7 helpline number 855-559-3923 or chat online for advice regarding various mental health centers in California.

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