Electroconvulsive Treatment


Age at interview: 50

Brief outline: Alka has been married to her husband for nearly 30 years. 18 Months after getting married her husband had a severe episode of depression and was later diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder. He has been treated with ECT several times and they both consider it one of the only things that help during his worst episodes.

Background: Alka works for the civil service, lives with her husband and describes her ethnic background as Indian.

Audio & video

Alka’s husband, has had Bipolar for 33 years, although she said it took a while for it to be diagnosed. First he was diagnosed with ‘manic depression’. He first had it when he was at university as a medical student and she said ECT was the only thing that would work for him. Her husband didn’t seem to respond to antidepressants, but later was prescribed carbamazepine, a drug first used for epilepsy that was found to also work for bipolar. After first becoming ill early in their marriage, he was well for a period of 18 years whilst taking carbamazepine, but because of developing side effects, he had to change his medication and since 2006 has had a few periods of severe depression. 

Alka says that her husband is very sensitive to any changes in his medication and he can go from being completely normal to incredibly depressed within a period of 24 hours. Alka didn’t know much about ECT or how it worked. The first time he had ECT she said it happened ‘behind closed doors’ when he was an inpatient. She didn’t know what ECT was and researched it in the local library: she was quite horrified by what she read. Later she researched it on the internet and finds American sites more useful as they contain more detailed information. Now she takes him for his ECT treatment, interacts with the nurses who are very friendly, and is familiar with the procedure. Alka said that he never responds to just one course of ECT (of around 12 treatments) but needs more. His latest series of treatments that started in June 2012 has included 63 separate sessions of ECT. 
Alka thinks that ECT is very humane and works for her husband, although there he has experienced some short-term memory loss. She has tried to help him by creating a diary so he can see what has happened and what will happen – such as an electrician coming or when he is having his ECT treatment. Alka has cared for him over the years and when he was very ill, she pushes him to do daily tasks such as brushing his teeth and having a shower. Alka has appreciated the help she has had from the psychiatrists she has known over the years, but felt the standard of care can vary. She has felt isolated at times and felt that the level of support she receives when she is caring for him at home was pretty low. 

Alka said that the dynamic of her marital relationship has changed over time. Her husband has ‘rapid cycling’ meaning he can be depressed and then shortly afterwards can have an elevated mood. She has also negotiated with his work when he is well enough to return to work. Alka has introduced him to the card game Bridge and has found that that helps him think about things other than work.

It is only recently that Alka has had the courage to talk about bipolar and ECT because of the stigma involved. She has found it much easier to talk about a recent physical illness (her husband was diagnosed with mouth cancer) than his mental health. His workplace only sent flowers when he was diagnosed with cancer and not when he was off with depression. Alka doesn’t go to support groups as she feels she is quite pragmatic and just wants to get on with stuff.


Please use the form below to tell us what you think of the site. We’d love to hear about how we’ve helped you, how we could improve or if you have found something that’s broken on the site. We are a small team but will try to reply as quickly as possible.

Please note that we are unable to accept article submissions or offer medical advice. If you are affected by any of the issues covered on this website and need to talk to someone in confidence, please contact The Samaritans or your Doctor.

Make a Donation to healthtalk.org

Find out more about how you can help us.

Send to a friend

Simply fill out this form and we'll send them an email