Electroconvulsive Treatment

Caring for someone having ECT

There are millions of carers throughout the UK, many looking after loved ones who are serious ill, and the contribution of carers to society is increasingly recognised. Being a carer doesn’t have to mean physically caring for them (getting them dressed etc.) but can mean just being there for the other person, aware of their needs and providing emotional and practical support (for more see ‘Caring for someone with mental illness’ and ‘Family Relationships’). 

This summary is about carers’ experience of supporting someone having ECT. When ECT was offered, carers were often relieved that there was something that might actually work. Steve said it was a relief to him when his wife was having ECT because there was a strong possibility that ECT could work. When Matt’s wife was moved to a new ward and a new consultant stopped her ECT treatment, he said it was “frustrating and upsetting…frightening that this thing that seemed to be working had just been kind of whisked away”.

Carers of people having ECT often wanted to be with their loved ones at the time of the ECT treatment, to provide moral support. Carers were not allowed to be there during the actual treatment. Yet many stayed in the waiting room with their loved one and spent time with them straight after the ECT in the recovery area. A few carers could not be there, e.g. because they had work and young children to take care of. Sheila, whose husband had ECT a few years ago, was allowed to go and see her husband before he went into the ECT suite. She was there when he was asked questions and when he signed a consent form.
Carers were sometimes asked to agree to their loved one having ECT (see ‘Compulsory detention and treatment). This was difficult for some, but others felt well supported by staff and felt that having ECT was the right decision.
However, some carers who would have liked to have been involved felt they were simply presented with the doctor’s decision to have, or to stop, ECT (see ‘Deciding whether to have ECT’). Dafydd, Steve and Carys found the decision for their loved ones to have ECT was taken by their psychiatrist and they were not given much information. 
Last reviewed January 2018.

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