Angelia Elkins, Homewood, Ala., was feeling hopeless about life, so she sought help from a doctor, because depression was taking over her life. The 49-year-old woman has treatment-resistant depression, which means her symptoms endure despite using antidepressant medication. Her physician recommended she received electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) to treat her depression at Ascension St. Vincent’s East Behavioral Health. ECT is a noninvasive procedure that delivers small electric currents into the scalp to stimulate brain cells.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, ECT is one of the most highly effective treatments available for severe and treatment-resistant depression. Many people might be familiar with ECT from seeing fictional characters receive the treatment in movies.
“ECT today is not what you may have seen in the movies years ago. It’s much safer due to the changes in technology and how it is administered,” said Steve Wells, RN, ECT coordinator at Ascension St. Vincent’s in Birmingham, AL. “This is an effective treatment that works very fast, but it’s underutilized because people don't realize it’s still being used.”
Angelia recommends that anyone considering ECT to not be afraid of the treatment. Although the treatment induces a seizure, patients do not feel the stimulation because they are given general anesthesia and a muscle relaxant. ECT appears to change a patient’s brain chemistry, quickly reversing symptoms of certain mental health conditions.
“I come in for treatment when I start feeling the depression kicking in and my bipolar swings start hitting really bad,” Angelia said.” “When I leave, I feel like a brand new person and on top of the world.,” she says. “It doesn’t hurt. It works really well, but you have to give it a chance.”
ECT treatments are delivered in a series of individual sessions spaced out over several weeks. Many patients begin to experience improvement in symptoms after six to 12 ECT treatments. Once the initial series is completed, most patients will transition to an outpatient setting where they will receive maintenance treatments on a monthly schedule.
“It is most effective in people who receive a full course of multiple treatments. Each individual is different, and we develop a treatment plan to address their personal needs,” Nurse Wells said.
The ECT procedure takes about five to 10 minutes with added time for preparation and recovery.
“I highly recommend Ascension St. Vincent’s East. The team is great and they treat you like family. I appreciate that they don’t hesitate to pray with you,” Angelia said.
Advance mental health care close to home
When you need to talk, we’re here to listen. Ascension St. Vincent’s East doctors care for the whole person, including emotional and mental health, and can make referrals if needed.
Quickly recognizing the signs that you or a loved one is experiencing moderate to severe mental or emotional distress is the first step in getting the necessary care to feel better.
If you or a loved one are experiencing an immediate life-threatening emergency, go directly to the ER or call 911.