The movies have always made electro convulsive therapy (ECT) seem like some form of evil torture. For years the movie, makers have succeeded in frightening everyone about ‘shocks’ little realising that these have saved the lives of people when everything else failed.

Mental health specialists don’t just use ECT because they can’t understand the illness they’re treating or can’t decide what else to do about it. They use it in situations when they feel it stands a very good chance of succeeding.


The technique involves passing a 100 volt (approximately) electric shock between two electrodes placed on either side of the head. Before receiving the shock, the person is anesthetised with an injection, and some medicine is given to relax the muscles of the body to make the movements of the body during the shock less. The shock itself lasts less than a second and the person wakes up with a slight headache or falls into a natural sleep. If anyone were to watch the procedure, all they would see is slight movements of the toes and fingers. The usual course of ECT is five to six sessions, given two or three times a week.

Side Effects:

Apart from a headache there may be slight confusion and loss of certain memories, specially for things that happened in the few days before the ECT. This improves within three or four weeks. If many ECT sessions are given, there may be more memory loss. There may also be some body ache for a short while.

Special care in giving ECT has to be taken for…

  • Those who have a heart problem or a pace maker
  • Anyone who has had a recent stroke
  • Anyone with recent fractures or weak bones
  • Anyone who has blood clots in the legs
  • Those who have peptic ulcers
  • Anyone with an severe infection of the respiratory tract at the time of ECT
  • Pregnant women.

Whom Is It best for :

ECT can be live saving in cases of severe depression. Ideas and strong intentions of suicide seem to disappear, quite magically. For the more serious mental illnesses, like schizophrenia, ECT makes strange ideas such the thought that everyone is out to kill the person, or the feeling that he is a reincarnate of God, disappear. ECT is an often an important part of the treatment of people who are in a state of high excitement from either schizophrenia or mania.

Precautions :

E.C.T. is given on empty stomach. Patient is required to be fasting for at least six hours (not even water is allowed). After E.C.T., which can be given on out patient basis, patient is required to stay for about two hours in the clinic. Liquids (preferrably water) can be given after about one hour of E.C.T. after patient is fully conscious. Light meals are allowed after four hours if no vomiting is present.



E.C.T. is the last treatment It may be the treatment of choice in some patients, specially those in severe depression or actually suicidal.
E.C.T. is a shot in the dark It is used for specific illness in specific situations.
No other treatment works after E.C.T. Medication and other treatments will be required after E.C.T. and actually work better.
E.C.T. is very painful. The patient does not even know and feels as if he has woken up after sleep
E.C.T. can cause long term problems and side effects. When E.C.T. is given properly and under anaesthesia, it is safer than a lot of medicines.