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Stories about the lives we've made

module:Measuring the unmeasurable

An introduction to psychology

page:Being an ECT patient

Modern practice now requires that a consent form agreeing to treatment must be signed by the patient or the patient's guardian.

The transcribed leaflet below represents the kind of details given to an ECT patient in the UK. It would be given to the patient in order to help them understand the nature and purpose of their treatment.

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Text transcription of an ECT information sheet
  Question: How does ECT work? Answer: Exactly how ECT works is unknown but it has its effect by altering the chemicals within the brain that affect mood. In depression there is an imbalance of these chemicals. ECT corrects this imbalance and, when it returns to normal, depression will lift.
  Question: Who has ECT? Answer: ECT is commonly recommended for those people whose depression has not responded to antidepressants (Tablets), or for those people who cannot tolerate antidepressants, or for those who are severely depressed.
  Question: What happens when I have ECT? Answer: As the treatment requires a brief anaesthetic you will need to have had nothing to eat or drink from midnight before the morning you are due to have ECT. In the morning you will go into the ECT room, lie on the bed, the anaesthetist will then give you an injection into a vein on the back of your hand. This injection contains both a short anaesthetic and a muscle relaxant. Within seconds you will be asleep - this will last for 1-3 minutes during which time the ECT is administered and you will have a brief (approximately 30 seconds) mild controlled convulsion (mild and controlled because of the muscle relaxant). You will not feel anything (because of the anaesthetic). Then you will gradually recover from the anaesthetic and will be taken back to the ward where you will be allowed to recover fully - this takes about 30 minutes. You will then have your breakfast and spend the rest of the day as normal.
  Question: How many treatments will I need? Answer: ECT is given as a course of treatment, 2 or 3 times a week. The length of the course varies from person to person and is determined by your response (improvement in mood). You may not notice improvement after your first ECT - improvement happens gradually and over the whole course of treatment though you may start to feel better after the first few treatments.
  Question: What are the side effects? Answer: Immediately after ECT you may feel a little 'muzzy' or disorientated (this is as much the affect of the anaesthetic as from ECT itself). You may also have a slight headache. These side effects will gradually wear off during the day.
    There are no long term or permanent side effects to this treatment.
This leaflet represents the kind of given to a UK ECT patient in order to help them understand the nature and purpose of their treatment.


Applying an electrical current to the brain is an admittedly frightening and forceful form of intervention and even with the newer techniques there are still side effects, especially with repeated use.



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