Electroconvulsive Therapy or Ect: An Important Form of Treatment For Severe Depression

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Do you remember the 1975 film, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” which starred Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher? Towards the film’s end, there was a mention of lobotomy which was used on the unruly character portrayed by Nicholson that resulted to that character’s becoming neurologically disabled. Lobotomy is a form of psychiatric treatment that is much abhorred for being a “barbaric” procedure.

Distantly different from lobotomy, but which has nevertheless earned unsavory reputation – most likely because of what has been depicted in the said film – is another form of treatment for severe depression called electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT.

Depression is a general term for the various forms and different degrees of emotional disturbances. It can have a number of causes. Depression that is triggered by psychological problems can usually be dealt with successfully through psychotherapy directed toward improving the individual’s self-confidence, relations with family and friends, and view or sentiment about life itself.

For major depression, the most effective treatment is a combination of a drug regimen (such as the use of certain antidepressants) and psychotherapy. An imbalance of certain chemicals that allow brain cells to transmit information or messages to each other (examples are serotonin and norepinephrine) usually exists when an individual is depressed. The antidepressant drugs can be useful in reinstating these chemicals to normal balance.

Further, antidepressants tend to raise dejected feelings. This enables the individual to focus on the psychotherapy and to gain positively from its effect of engendering self-awareness. Habits that are self-defeating can be changed with the help of cognitive behavior therapy, while interpersonal psychotherapy can help mend or reform social skills in concerned individuals. These are upliftments that cannot be obtained from mere medications.

But if medications and psychotherapy do not seem to have any favorable effect on severe depression, electroconvulsive therapy may be recommended. In fact, electroconvulsive therapy has been used with great success in some cases of psychotic depression.

Certain misconceptions about ECT have given it such ugly reputation that it does not deserve. But as a matter of fact, ECT is a safe and effective form of treatment for severe depression. This is especially true for elderly patients, for patients who are evidently unresponsive to antidepressant medications, and for patients who are apparently delusional.

ECT is usually performed in a hospital; a regimen of antidepressant drugs is almost always used as a follow-up to this treatment. The antidepressant drugs are administered to put the patient to sleep and relax his/her muscles; this is necessary to prevent injury in the patient. Some patients suffer short-term loss of memory, which is the most common side effect of electroconvulsive therapy. What are usually involved in such a problem, however, are immediate occurrences or events. In about a couple of weeks, the problem vanishes.

Definitely not a painful procedure, electroconvulsive therapy is an important form of treatment for severe depression that can save – certainly not disable – the life of the concerned individual.


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