What is ECT?

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a useful treatment if you have severe depression, and sometimes it is lifesaving. Many people have a negative impression of ECT from media portrayals based on the way it was used several decades ago, but ECT is now a recommended option for people with very severe depression who are at risk of dying from suicide or through not eating or drinking. It is given in hospitals only.

During ECT, a brief, carefully controlled electric current is passed through the brain using electrodes on the scalp. A general anaesthetic is always given beforehand, so you are not conscious during the treatment, and a muscle relaxant is also given. ECT is usually given two or three times a week, for six-to-14 sessions. You can feel disoriented straight after ECT, and it often causes some short- or long-term memory problems.

The benefits of ECT are short-lived, and treatment with antidepressant or mood-stabilising medicine such as lithium is recommended afterwards to keep you well.

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