ECT facts

Abracadabra here, to tell you that electro-convulsive therapy (ECT), or more commonly known as “shock treatment”, is grossly over-dramatised in movies, books, media etc. Emphasis on grossly. 

As part of my psychiatry rotation I get to observe ECT being administered to patients with treatment resistant depression, psychotic depression, etc etc. 

It is NOTHING like they show in the movies. It is not done in a dark dingy room where the patient is forced into the room and strapped down into a chair or table with multiple wires stuck to their head. There is no giant dial that the cruel doctor turns up to increase the amount of voltage entering the patient and watches them scream in pain as they convulse while the nurses and doctors look on with a sadistic satisfaction on their faces. 

Seriously. It’s about as exciting as static electricity. 

What really happens is that the patient is brought into the procedure room and asked by multiple people multiple times if they’re happy to be there and go through with the procedure. Everyone is smiling as they explain the procedure again, the patient gets onto the bed and is given general anaesthesia! Yaay!! They’re also given muscle relaxants which means there’s no horrific flopping about. The machine that delivers the shock is about the size of a shoebox and just as complex. Two dials to set the amount of electricity and one button to turn it on. When the patient is asleep, the button is pressed. 

Oh this is the best part. Because I actually missed the “seizure” the first time. The patient looks like they’re squeezing their eyes tight. And their toes curl slightly. I didn’t even notice this until my consultant pointed it out. And this lasted a grand total if 8 seconds. After this, the machine is turned off and then everyone watches as the patient twitches. Not even great big twitches. Just little finger movement. This lasts for about 20-40seconds. And that’s all folks! Wires come off, patient is woken up and wheeled out of the room, still smiling. 

That was definitely not what I was expecting. xD I, like a lot of people had a hugely distorted idea of what ECT was and what it does to people. The stigma around it alone, has prevented patients with treatment resistant conditions from receiving a treatment that’s actually proven to be extremely effective for such conditions. It’s sad, really. This is a pretty good example of how media distorts real facts and stops many advances in medicine and other fields. 

Because of these ideas, even doctors don’t offer ECT as a first-line treatment for many patients who it would be very effective for. Hopefully more people will realise that ECT is not really as bad as movies make it out to be. I actually got a bit bored. 

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