Electroconvulsive Treatment

Catherine Y

Age at interview: 41

Brief outline: Catherine experienced problems as a teenager and, after a suicide attempt, was eventually admitted to a young people’s unit. When she was 26, and after a change in medication, she was admitted to hospital where she was offered ECT. Catherine and her husband decided to try different anti-depressants instead of opting for ECT.

Background: Catherine is married, lives with her husband and works as an E-health officer. She describes her ethnic background as White Scottish.

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Catherine struggled when she was at school, and she also had problems with her family. She remembered seeing a school report that said she was ‘in the midst of the doldrums’. She experienced problems with lethargy, poor concentration, sleep, memory and anxiety. Catherine took an overdose when she was 16. Her family were ‘appalled’. Nobody in her family had ever had depression or anxiety – only “stress” which wasn’t seen as a mental health problem. Catherine went to a local psychiatric hospital for six weeks on an adult ward and then was transferred to a young people’s unit. At the time there was no mention of the term “depression” just “adolescent crisis”. Over some weeks she was assessed at this unit, and they diagnosed her with depression and said she had probably been depressed for a couple of years. At the time she didn’t understand the treatment options or the type of support that would be in place. 

Catherine stayed on the young people’s unit for about seven or eight months and had a range of treatments. In hindsight she said the services she received were good, although she didn’t always appreciate them fully at the time. Catherine then lived in supported accommodation unit with another girl also from the unit. She did an employment-training scheme and around this time met her future husband. For five years after she left the unit, Catherine had one-to-one support and she also went to a day group with other young people. Later, she left supported accommodation and moved in with her boyfriend. She found she was unable to work and still experienced high levels of apathy. 

Later Catherine’s medication was changed, she lost a couple of stone in weight and began to struggle with anxiety issues. She ended up in hospital before the Christmas of ‘97 and her medication was changed again. She was discharged, but said she felt no different to she had done when she was admitted. She went to another city and tried to kill herself. Catherine phoned the Samaritans who told her to phone the police, and she ended up being transferred to a hospital near her home. During this admission to hospital, ECT was mentioned for the first time. It was explained to her that if she had ECT she would maybe not have to stay so long in hospital. Overall, she found the staff quite difficult and the environment unsupportive. Her husband looked at the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the NHS websites, and printed information for her. Both Catherine and her husband had real concerns about ECT. Catherine had more mixed feelings about ECT whereas her husband was strongly against it. She felt that it was natural that her husband was involved in the decision as they had been together quite a few years by this point. Catherine had seen some patients who had had good experiences of ECT but she had also seen some patients who had been badly affected by ECT. She decided to take newer medication instead and although things started to improve with her mental well-being she did gain a huge amount of weight. She said the staff presented her with the decision to have ECT and left her to it, but she wanted to be given more information. Catherine knew about ECT but still wanted to know more about the potential side effects such as memory loss and why people sometimes struggled to walk just as they came around. She thinks that it is an individual decision whether or not to have ECT. Catherine felt that as medication had worked for her in the past, she felt there was a chance that it would work again. She felt it is really important for staff to be empathetic in the way they explain something like ECT and to give patients all the information.  

After this admission she was determined not return to hospital. She found a support worker from a mental health charity and started exercising. Over a 4-5 year period she really improved. She had a few ‘wobbly patches’ but after 2000, she hasn’t had a hospital admission. She did an Open University course and says that she has now gone back to working full time – something she did gradually. She continues to take antidepressant medication. She now has a few other physical health problems that are frustrating.


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