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What I Want to Say to Every Person Who Dismisses Electroconvulsive Therapy

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I’ll admit, I’m someone who really likes to get well-rounded information on anything I create an opinion about. This is especially true with areas where I have personal involvement, and after over a decade of active struggle with major depression and anorexia, I felt especially on top of some newer trends in mental health treatment. Yet nothing could prevent the devastating plummet I took into a major depressive episode last spring.

Knowing I had tried nearly 20 different psychotropic medications over the years, I had a fairly good inkling my recovery was not going to come in the form of a pill bottle. I was actively on the waiting list for a Ketamine Infusion Trial at a local medical center, but my consistent readmissions to psychiatric facilities wrote me off as a good candidate. I was encouraged by a zealous psychiatrist to pursue genetic testing, yet while the packet of genetic results I got to carry around made me feel momentarily reassured, they ultimately did little more than that.

All of this time, I continued to get worse; getting bogged down in major depression and growing increasingly intent on suicide. Feeling protective over my anorexia recovery, which became increasingly threatened as depression interfered with my appetite, I knew that if I started to starve myself once again both my mental and physical states would become irreparable. When electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) had been suggested before, I had always written it off because I felt protective over my memory and intellect, given that so many other parts of myself had been suffocated by depression and starvation. There is also such pervasive opinion and stigma from so many areas of society, even the psychological community. I know that some even still find it difficult to forget the shocking content of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

By summer my situation had worsened, and after three concurrent hospitalizations, I was brought to a well-known ECT center where I agreed to hear them out. I am so glad that I did because when I was forced to sit down with myself and think about why I was so fearful of the procedure, I came face to face with all of the subjective falsities I was holding onto. ECT does ultimately effect your memory, but not always necessarily in the drastic manner portrayed. You are anesthetized for the actual procedure, and for me it took less than 10 minutes. I was observed and given constant care until I was fully recovered. Most important of all, ECT has remarkable results for many.

I am not the typical ECT patient. I am a 25-year-old who, thanks to ECT, is also a full-time college student after a seven-year hiatus because of constant illness and hospitalizations. It’s challenging to juggle treatments and college, but ECT unequivocally saved my life and kept me stable enough to return to being a college student, which is a crucial aspect of my self-identity.

I am reaching out to everyone struggling with mental illness who has written off ECT because of “what they’ve heard.” Stigma is a powerful force. We mostly think of how it shapes opinion, but when it comes to ECT stigma, it can shape lives. It can deny the opportunity to save lives. I’m stealing the theme of NEDA week in saying – “It’s time to talk about it.” Electroconvulsive therapy is not brutal or painful or inhuman — it can be a powerful tool in giving people with debilitating mental illness a chance to be more than a patient; a chance to be more than their pain.

Editor’s note: This piece is based on an experience of an individual and shouldn’t be taken as medical advice.

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Thinkstock photo via Ingram Publishing

Originally published: May 11, 2017
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