Frequently Asked Questions

16. Can a brain stimulation therapy such as electroconvulsive therapy help with depression?

If medications do not reduce the symptoms of depression, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) may be an option to explore. Once strictly an inpatient procedure, today ECT is often performed on an outpatient basis. The treatment consists of a series of sessions, typically three times a week, for two to four weeks.

ECT is not painful and you cannot feel the electrical impulses. Before ECT begins, a patient is put under brief anesthesia and given a muscle relaxant. He or she sleeps through the treatment and does not consciously feel the electrical impulses. Within 1 hour after the treatment session, which takes only a few minutes, the patient is awake and alert.

There are a lot of outdated beliefs about ECT, but based on the latest research,

  • ECT can provide relief for people with severe depression who have not been able to feel better with other treatments.
  • ECT can be an effective treatment for depression. In some severe cases where a rapid response is necessary, or medications cannot be used safely, ECT can even be a first-line intervention.
  • ECT may cause some side effects, including confusion, disorientation, and memory loss. Usually these side effects are short term, but sometimes they can linger.
  • Advances in ECT devices and methods have made modern ECT safe and effective for the vast majority of patients.
  • Talk to your doctor and make sure you understand the potential benefits and risks of the treatment before giving your informed consent to undergoing ECT.