How to support someone receiving ECT?
November 15, 2012 8:49 AM   Subscribe

A friend hospitalised with depression caused by his bipolar disorder just texted me to say that he will be receiving electroconvulsive therapy in a few days. Any tips on being supportive before and after the treatment?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (7 answers total)
I've been with a friend for a few treatments. I think the most important thing is to just BE THERE. Sit with him before the treatment, wait until he is released and be with him for a few hours after (nurses are generally overworked and having someone that can easily get a drink for example can make a real difference in care. Ask your friend what they need and try to provide it, if they just want to watch a silly movie and doze, fine. Some people have memory loss, or get confused, just be stable and calm and handle any situations that come up maturely to reassure them they are in good hands. Now is not the time to share stressful things in your life, or debate ECT, focus on your friend and their needs.
posted by saucysault at 9:16 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's not as bad as it used to be years ago and pretty sure they put people out for it anyway. I've seen it work wonders on people with catatonic depression that meds wouldn't touch. Usually they do several small sessions over the course of a week.

Also, be prepared for some short term memory loss afterward.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 9:16 AM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

ECT is now administered under supervised anesthesia and with titrated anti-convulsants--it is a recommended intervention for depression that is refractory after unsuccessful trials of antidepressants. It can be extremely helpful--a bad image lingers--the days of Nurse Ratchet are gone. As other posters have said--be there, listen to concerns, do not accidentally reinforce inappropriate/unrealistic fears and approach this as you would with a friend that was having routine ( but always scary) minimally invasive overnight/outpatient surgery. I am confident there will be some symptomatic improvement.
posted by rmhsinc at 9:23 AM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

ECT has a horrendous reputation, so educating yourself about how it works and what it does (and does not) do may help you avoid reinforcing the fear and dread that surrounds this treatment. Bear in mind that your friend may wish to keep his hospitalization or ECT treatments secret to some degree. Other than that, remember to be encouraging, but not pushy. (The whole "buck up, kid" thing is pretty obnoxious for people who are mentally ill.) If you have mutual acquaintances and your friend might be reluctant to bring up the subject, you might want to let him know that you will follow his wishes with regards to disclosure. Above all, visit as much as you can and be a good friend -- that might just mean being there while he struggles, for a while. The most important thing is to be there because mental illness can be terribly lonely.
posted by reren at 10:41 AM on November 15, 2012

Wanted to second Marie Mon Dieu on the memory loss issue. One of my friends had ECT about a decade ago, and her memory was awful for a pretty long time afterward. Just requires a little extra patience, and reassurance that you know they didn't suddenly "become stupid" due to the ECT.

My friend had one unfortunate experience due to that ECT memory loss. She was allowed out of the hospital to get a snack with me, and a nurse told us that her curfew was 9:00 p.m. When we returned, the exact same nurse yelled at her for violating an 8:00 p.m. curfew, and my friend freaked because she couldn't remember the previous curfew conversation at all. I could, though, and I knew the nurse had said 9:00. We had taken her out around 8:00, so we had the impression the nurse was using our friend's mental fog to cover up for her screw-up.

So look out for your friend while they're having the memory issues. Maybe help them find a way to keep track of stuff, so they don't get frustrated or (less likely) mistreated.
posted by Coatlicue at 10:49 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

ECT isn't so bad; it's the depression necessitating ECT that's the problem. Also, hospitalization is excruciatingly boring. Go visit your friend, take him presents or fun things to do, be kind, try to make him laugh. Be patient with any memory issues.

If you want specifics about what treatment entails or what it's like to go through a course of ECT, please feel free to message me.
posted by baby beluga at 6:08 PM on November 15, 2012

The worst part is the memory loss.

As some one said, you are out completely and you are given a muscle relaxant so that the only thing that moves is your toesto show that you've had the siesure . It isn't violent at all

So ECT isn't like it used to be, and if she's just having unilateral ECT the memory loss will be mimimal.

I think the best way you can help as others have said is to visit, knowing that she may not feel up to talking too much. Just act normal around her. There is so much stigma surrounding ECT that she may feel weird. If you can normalize by just being her friend, that will go a long way.

Also find out what's allowed as gifts. For example flowers are OK as long as they're not in a glass vase, etc. This will minimize having to buy things that she can't have.
posted by la petite marie at 8:55 PM on November 15, 2012

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