ECT is a safe, efficient, and sometimes life saving therapy used to treat specific mental health
conditions. Although it’s controversial, this was very much rooted in the past. ECT is much
safer today, and is provided in a highly controlled setting for the best possible outcome with
the fewest possible risks.
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a procedure to treat more severe psychiatric conditions.
It's carried out under general anaesthesia, where small electric currents are passed through
the brain. ECT is often effective in patients when other treatments have not been
successful. However the full course of treatment should be completed. It should be noted
that ECT may not work for everyone.
ECT treatments are practised in several countries across the world, but it is not common,
only around 1 - 5 people in 10 000 are treated with ECT every year. Treatment consists of
about 6 - 8 sessions. During an ECT session, a small dose of a well controlled electric
current is administered near the forehead to stimulate the brain cells.
This produces convulsions (small and controlled seizures) for just a few seconds. The
procedure is done under general anesthesia, so patients are unaware of the passage of the
electrical current or the seizure, and they feel nothing. The whole procedure lasts a few
minutes. After about 15 to 20 minutes, the patient regains consciousness.
ECT is administered by a specialist team consisting of a psychiatrist, an anaesthetist, and
nursing staff. Patients are monitored closely during the procedure.
Consent for an ECT can only be provided by you as the patient and must be provided in
writing. It can be withdrawn at any time.
It is believed that ECT causes certain chemical changes in the brain, leading to the
development of new connections across different nerve cells.
Scientists have found that following ECT, there are changes in the levels of
neurotransmitters in the brain. It's thought that these may be responsible for improvements
seen with ECT.
Scientific research into ECT is continuing to determine exactly why this therapy can be so
effective where other treatments fail.
If a patient is suffering from a severe mental disorder like depression, schizophrenia, or
mania, doctors may consider ECT if other treatments have not been effective. They will take into
account safety, the patient's preferences, their response (or lack thereof) to psychiatric
medications, and whether the person needs fast relief from debilitating psychiatric conditions
ECT may be considered in the following circumstances:
If a patient's psychiatric condition – particularly depression – is severe and there
is a high risk of suicide.
If a patient's physical health is jeopardised as a result of the psychiatric
condition, for example refusing food or fluids.
When patients are highly excited or agitated, endangering their own life or the
safety of others.
When medications are ineffective in relieving the symptoms of the psychiatric
condition, or where medications are causing severe side-effects and cannot be
ECT is a safe procedure for pregnant and nursing women when proper precautions are taken. It
can often be the preferred treatment where the psychiatric condition needs to be treated
urgently, as many psychiatric medications are not safe for use during pregnancy.
The effect of ECT is not permanent. You will need medication to maintain any improvement
achieved by ECT and may require more sessions of ECT depending on your specific situation.
ECT can be quite a controversial treatment, mostly due to how it was administered in the past. There
are a number of myths circulating about the treatment, so it's important to separate the myths from
ECT causes memory loss.
If someone is admitted to a mental health facility they will be given ECT without
their knowledge or consent.
ECT is painful.
ECT causes brain damage and may reduce intelligence or change someone’s personality.
ECT treatment is a punishment.
If ECT has been suggested by your doctor, it means that other treatments are not
working and your condition is hopeless.
Temporary forgetfulness is a side effect and is largely mild, limited to recent
events and reversible. Your memory will remain intact after an ECT course is
ECT is only given after your doctor has discussed the treatment with you, and only if
you provide written consent for the procedure. You can withdraw your consent at any
time. ECT is performed under anesthesia – you do not feel the electric shock or any
ECT does not cause brain damage. It may cause temporary memory lapses of events
around the course of the ECT. It also has no effect on personality or intelligence.
ECT is not a punishment. It is a safe treatment, administered by professionals to
treat certain mental health conditions.
ECT is generally suggested by doctors as the best option for you at the time. If you
do not wish to receive an ECT, your doctor will suggest the next best option.
As part of our commitment to providing the best and safest care to all our patients, we
listen. If you have anything you'd like to ask us, or need assistance accessing our
services, please get in touch.