I had electroshock therapy

Kyile Moore speaking about her expereince with ECT on SBS's Insight.

Kyile Moore speaking about her expereince with ECT on SBS's Insight.

I was taken aback the first time electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) was offered to me. I didn’t believe that I was unwell enough to need it – I thought I would have to be catatonic or even manic to warrant ECT.  I later realised that wasn’t the case at all and I would choose ECT after more than a decade of fighting major depression. Nothing I tried worked (medications and therapy) and suicide became a very real and valid option.

I have struggled with depression since I was a teenager, but was only diagnosed in 1999 when my first child was born.

It was during my second pregnancy in 2001/2002 that I became severely mentally unwell and suicidal. I would cry every day for reasons I couldn’t explain, I’d refuse to get out of bed and I wouldn’t take care of my personal appearance. I hated myself and anybody that tried to help. I didn’t think I was a good enough Mum, I wouldn’t go to work, and I constantly suffered from insomnia.

Kyile Moore and her husband.

Kyile Moore and her husband.

My psychiatrist at the time suggested ECT. The decision back then was simple – no. My husband was not prepared to take the risk. As it was, we didn’t know the full effects of anti-depressants on unborn babies. I spent months of my pregnancy in a psychiatric hospital, including Christmas, which was especially difficult for my two and a half year old child.

Advertisement

ECT was again considered in early 2010, I’d got a point in my life where my negative thoughts about myself and life were getting too powerful and I wasn’t functioning in my day to day life but I strongly rejected the idea, determined that I could get better with medication and therapy. I wanted one more chance. Over the next 12 months my anxiety that I’d spent years denying, grew stronger and more debilitating to the point where I couldn’t leave the house on my own or answer the phone.

The one positive in this otherwise negative period was that I did start to believe people when they told me that my children were not better off without a Mum and that my husband loved me. With that in mind, I decided to have ECT, as much for my children as for me and my marriage. I was admitted into a psychiatric hospital in February 2011.

The preparation and assessments were extensive and took almost two weeks as I needed to be deemed medically fit to have ECT. I had blood tests, ECG’s, CT scans of my head and chest, consultations with psychiatrists, an anaesthetist, a psychologist and my husband, and my medical history was thoroughly reviewed. I then had six bilateral ECT treatments (three a week for two weeks) in March 2011.

During this time I became disorientated, erratic, angry and confused as a result of the treatments. Timeframes and sequence of events became distorted. I suffered extreme and distressing memory loss - I forgot my birthday, the birth of my niece, my son breaking his arm the year before.

The terror I felt waking up in my room after my first treatment utterly disorientated and crying was distressing. I saw a phone next to me and a number suddenly came to me, so I dialled it. A man answered. In between my sobs I asked him “who are you?” to which he answered “it’s me, Peter, your husband”.

I somehow managed to then ask him “who am I?” By then we were both crying. I think we must have cried together on the phone for a while as he slowly explained what was happening. Even though I didn’t know what was happening I trusted this man’s words and I’m glad I did. Although I knew ECT wasn’t a quick fix, I became impatient and wanted it to work instantly.

Due to the distress of my memory loss, I decided to try right unilateral ECT instead. This form of the therapy is known to have less effect of memory loss. And in fact after two weeks my memory and general well being improved enough for me to be discharged home, and I continued to have ECT as an outpatient for approximately another three weeks.

Throughout the ECT process I kept a journal, which helped with the memory loss. I’d put reminder notes about my life on my wall and when I would read them they felt like nothing more than random facts.

The only emotion I felt was hurt and embarrassment for not remembering. However, I was often comforted by my favourite music and during ECT I discovered art therapy. I was pleasantly surprised to find I was able to express myself in various art forms.

When I decided to cease ECT it was due to the side effects of the general anaesthetics rather than the treatment itself.

 I was no longer having new memory loss and my mental health had clearly improved. ECT was one of the most traumatic events I’ve ever experienced, yet despite this trauma and the difficult months that followed it was worth it. Since ECT I have finally been able to fully commit and persevere with group therapy and couples counselling. I’ve never been one to make goals but I made one in 2012 and that was to stay out of hospital. I achieved this and it is also my goal this year.

Years after first refusing it, ECT gave me a chance at life. I grasped this opportunity and I continually try to make the most of it. I will always have dark days, weeks or maybe months but I feel stronger than I have ever felt. My confidence and self-esteem has slowly developed but I still have a long way to go. My self-doubt always manages to show through, but I try to fight it.

Kylie is a guest on SBS's Insight program tonight at 8.30pm on SBS ONE which brings together psychiatrists, researchers, and patients who’ve had Electroshock therapy – some voluntarily, some against their will – to ask how effective the therapy is in the long term and whether there are better alternatives to treat depression.

Follow Insight on Twitter

* Support is available for anyone who may be distressed by calling Lifeline 131 114, Mensline 1300 789 978, Kids Helpline 1800 551 800.

15 comments

  • My wife sufferred from depression for a number of years and was against any treatment during those years (in denial), things were very very bad - similar situation to above but finally the CAT team took her to the hospital, the initial dosage of anti-depressants (2 weeks) had no impact so ECT was recommended, She went through a weekly then fortnighty then monthly ECT sessions for about six months. There was a dramatic change in my wifes situtation after the first month. Yes there was some short term memory loss but it is all coming back slowly. The only she can't recollect is during her last few months of illness prior to her being admitted to the hospital.

    So ECT did work. Now she is much much better and continues to be on the lowest dosage of anti-depressants, hopefully one day this will also go away.

    Commenter
    JD
    Location
    Melb
    Date and time
    September 24, 2013, 9:50AM
    • My mum fell into a severe depressive episode after my older brother, her first child, was stillborn back in the mid-60's in the UK. She remembers being unable to move, just staring at the wall and not wanting to be there but unable to muster the energy to care about where else she would go. She told me that a car came to pick her up, she had her first treatment and she said she immediately felt a bit brighter, a bit more energetic, a bit more hopeful. She completed the whole course of 6-8 sessions. She said it saved her life by resetting her brain, changing the tracks of hopelessness and despair. I am forever grateful to the medical team who looked after her and my Dad for supporting her treatment even though he was mourning the loss of his first child as well. I know it's not a treatment suitable for everyone, but I do think it should be a considered option for persistent depressive states that aren't responding to therapy and medication.

      Commenter
      charlie
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      September 24, 2013, 10:33AM
      • This is perhaps something that tonight's program will address - but I'd like to know at what point ECT is considered? How bad does depression have to be in order to for a psychiatrist to recommend it?

        I can imagine it's probably quite an expensive process, but if it is as immediately and dramatically effective as claimed, are there other reasons why it might not be used as a "first line of defence" rather than a last resort after years of failed attempts at drug and talking therapies?

        Commenter
        ssscrambled
        Location
        Ashfield
        Date and time
        September 24, 2013, 10:44AM
        • Like any surgical procedure, ECT carries risks - and that is why procedures requiring general anaesthesia are rarely a first line of defence. ECT is frequently effective, but not always. Results range in effectiveness between patients, as well as side effects ranging from a mild headache to serious and permanent memory loss. I've seen some clients whose lives have literally been saved by ECT, others who claim that they would never consider it again due to the side effects.

          To answer your other question, ECT is usually not considered unless symptoms are of debilitating/ life-threatening seriousness, and other possibilities have been exhausted. Given the potential risks, that's probably as it should be.

          Commenter
          Red Pony
          Date and time
          September 24, 2013, 12:08PM
        • Thanks for that Red Pony - makes a lot of good sense.

          And yes as below, it is interesting how the public suspicion surrounding the older types of therapies still lingers. I sort of wonder whether it is to do with the perception that they weren't developed through an evidence base as we currently understand it. Lithium seems to provoke a similar reaction.

          Commenter
          ssscrambled
          Location
          Ashfield
          Date and time
          September 24, 2013, 1:46PM
        • Writing as somebody who is in remission from Major Depressive Disorder, thanks to medication, CBT and my hard work, I agree with Red Pony's comment about ECT.

          Another therapy for people who have treatment-refractory depression is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS). A member of my mood disorders therapy group found it very helpful.

          As always, discuss treatment options with your mental health care team.

          Commenter
          Dr Kiwi
          Date and time
          September 24, 2013, 2:57PM
      • A family member of mine recently underwent ECT treatment after months of suffering from major depression and trying a number of anti-depressants that were not effective.
        He was treated with the latest technology for ECT which is called Ultra Brief Pulse ECT. With this new technology the memory loss side effects were greatly minimised. The only things he couldn't remember were for example, a short meeting he had with a doctor in the previous week. Nothing of major importance. The only thing with Ultra Brief Pulse ECT is that you may need a few more sessions of it compared with the conventional form of ECT. Also, afterwards it took a few weeks for the patient's psycho motor skills to bounce back to it's usual pace.
        For anyone who suffers from depression or knows someone who is, it is definitely worth considering and asking your doctor about. ECT treatment has suffered a bad reputation for being scary and cruel which is why we were a bit apprehensive to go down that path, but our family's experience with it was overall a positive one with incredible results.

        Commenter
        JB
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        September 24, 2013, 10:58AM
        • As a medical practitioner I have always been bemused by the antipathy of the general public towards ECT. It is an effective method of treating severe depression in resistant cases. It works and has few side-effects. Could it be the impact of movies (One flew over the cuckoos nest, Frankenstein)? As a matter of interest, it is not the electric shock that fixes the depression, it is the resultant generalised seizure.

          Commenter
          John
          Location
          Albury
          Date and time
          September 24, 2013, 11:30AM
          • It's movies, for sure. One friend of mine nearly threw a drink in my face when she found out that I worked in a clinic that provided ECT (as well as more conventional treatments) because she thought this was a form of torture! I had to dispel any number of myths, including the idea that it's done without anaesthesia, performed on voluntary patients without consent, performed as a punishment or means of keeping patients quiet, or that it's associated with lobotomies.

            But who can blame people for having the wrong idea when, only a few decades ago, most of those myths were actually true? Janet Frame and Ken Kesey weren't lying, they are just out of date.

            Commenter
            Red Pony
            Date and time
            September 24, 2013, 12:12PM
          • I always thought that the memory loss was an integral part of the treatment. They forgot why they were depressed in the first place, so that's how it works. Is that incorrect?

            Commenter
            debbie
            Location
            sydney
            Date and time
            September 24, 2013, 2:49PM

        More comments

        Comments are now closed