Explains what electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is, when it might be used and what happens during the treatment.
Electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT for short, is a treatment that involves sending an electric current through your brain, causing a brief surge of electrical activity within your brain (also known as a seizure). The aim of the treatment is to relieve the symptoms of some mental health problems.
ECT is given under a general anaesthetic, so you aren't awake during the treatment.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that ECT is only used to achieve quick, short-term improvements if you have:
Repeated ECT is only recommended if you have previously responded well to it, or if all other options have been considered.
ECT is not recommended for ongoing management of schizophrenia, or as a routine treatment for mild to moderate depression.
You can read full guidelines on the NICE website for using ECT to treat catatonia, mania or schizophrenia, and as one of the treatments for moderate or severe depression.
It’s very difficult to know how ECT works, or how effective it is. Many different theories have been suggested, but research hasn’t shown exactly what effects it has or how these might help with mental health problems.
Some people find ECT helpful while others don’t. If you are thinking about having ECT, it’s important that you are given full information about the treatment. See our page on deciding to have ECT for more information.
"It didn't work overnight but as my course of nine progressed I could feel the huge weight of black, black fog lift from my mind."
The use of ECT can be controversial for several reasons:
This information was published in July 2019. We will revise it in 2022.
References and bibliography available on request.
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