Treating Depression with Electroconvulsive Therapy

Electroshock therapy was first used in 1938 to induce a therapeutic seizure. Those seizures seemed to reset the brain.

Today, the treatment is nothing like the Frankenstein depictions on TV or in the movies.

When medication and hospitalization no longer works for 100,000 psychiatric patients, depression and bipolar disorder are wiped away with electroconvulsive therapy or ECT.

And now, the FDA is now looking into the pros and cons of this medical method.

This is what scares us most about ECT, a high voltage of electricity sent directly into a patient's brain without any pain meds.

"It used to be that people would have a full convulsion and they would break bones from the contracture of the, of the muscles," says Michael Hughes, MD, a Psychiatrist at University of Miami, Miller School of Medicine.

But today, patients are put under anesthesia and the low dose electricity is safely regulated by the newest machine.

"The machine quite dramatically modifies the waveform of the current as it passes through the machine and then gets administered to the central nervous system," says Dr. Martin Strassnig, Attending Psychiatrist and Chief, ECT Service University of Miami.

It changed Barry Wiernik's life.

"He said, 'Roni, I don't want to live and I can't get out of bed,’" said Barry’s wife Roni Wiernick.

Barry is bipolar and suffers from severe depression. Newly prescribed maintenance ECT every eight weeks is the only way to keep him from relapsing.

"There's no pain involved,” explains Barry. “You go under general anesthesia, you wake up within an hour, and it's like nothing happened."

"I think this is such a wonderful, wonderful thing because it helped my husband," says Roni.

Harvard trained Psychiatrist Doctor Michael Hughes says ECT could cause some temporary memory loss, soreness, and muscle spasms.

"It's scary for people to hear about it,” says Dr. Hughes. “When you know about it and see it, it is safe."

A safe and drug-free option.

Some states, such as Utah, have tried to outlaw ECT.

However it is legal and used to treat severe depression and bipolar disorder that is resistant to medication.

Two thirds of those patients are women. ECT is covered by insurance as both an inpatient and outpatient procedure.

Treating Depression with Electroconvulsive Therapy
REPORT #2044

BACKGROUND: Depression and bipolar disorder are two psychological illnesses that affect countless amounts of people world-wide. Depression is a constant feeling of sadness and unhappy emotions that causes physical and emotional pain. It is defined as a chronic illness that requires long-term treatment to stay healthy. Bipolar disorder is known as a manic-depressive illness. This illness is a brain disorder that continuously changes the mood of a person. It can also affect energy and activity levels as well as the ability to complete daily tasks. (Source: and

SYMPTOMS: Signs of depression include deceased energy, fatigue, trouble concentrating, feeling of helplessness and hopelessness, irritability, excessive sleeping or insomnia, appetite loss or overeating, suicidal thoughts, "empty" feelings, and persistent headaches. These symptoms all lead to depression if they do not subside. Symptoms for bipolar disorder are dramatic and unpredictable. A person who suffers from this illness has a constant change of uncontrollable mood swings. Typically these symptoms include increased energy, happiness, irritability, restlessness, and an intense sex drive. (Source: and

ELECTROCONVULSIVE THERAPY: Depression and bipolar disorder can now be treated with electroconvulsive therapy treatments. Originally developed in the late 1930s, ECT treatments were not favored, but now the improved therapy is safe and effective for patients, and it does not cause any pain or discomfort. Before the procedure, patients are sedated with anesthesia and a muscle relaxer to prevent the patient form moving during the treatment. Once the patient is sedated, doctors place electrodes on the head which delivers an electric current through the brain. This causes an induced seizure but only lasts about one minute or less. In order to notice progress form ECT treatments, a patient must undergo the procedure about 3 times a week until signs of depression or bipolar disorder subside. This method of battling psychological illnesses has evolved from its first attempts, and has shown that it can be more effective than prescribed medication. Common side effects such as headache, muscle aches, and upset stomach may occur, but the results can be life-changing. (Source:

For More Information, Contact:

Lisa Worley
Marketing Director
University of Miami Hospital

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