Electroconvulsive Treatment

Catherine Z

Female
Age at interview: 52

Brief outline: Catherine Z had an experience of hypomania in her late teens and was admitted to hospital for 2 weeks and prescribed antipsychotics. After giving birth at the age of 29 she suffered from an episode of acute manic psychosis. She explains that ECT was the only treatment that worked for her on that occassion. She views ECT as a lifesaver and describes it as “pressing the reset button,” allowing you to get back to who you were before.

Background: Catherine Z is a teacher and lives with her husband. She has 2 grown-up children and describes her ethnic background as White British.

Audio & video

Catherine was diagnosed with hypomania in her late teens after returning from a holiday where she had very little sleep and experienced grandiose delusions she knew were not real. After seeing a psychiatrist, she was admitted to hospital for 2 weeks and prescribed an antipsychotic. She soon recovered. 

She enjoyed a career in marketing. She became pregnant when she was 29 and had her son. During her pregnancy she felt the need to be the perfect mum. She bought books and wanted to learn as much as she could about giving birth and motherhood. Although they enquired about any mental health issues during an antenatal appointment, it had not occurred to her that her early experience of hypomania would fall into this category. After giving birth and leaving hospital she began suffering from hallucinations. She told her husband and mother that she didn’t feel right but said that she did not want to go back to hospital. Her hallucinations became extremely severe and unmanageable. She completely lost touch with reality. Her GP and a social worker visited and she was forcibly admitted to hospital. 

She was on medication for 10 days but unfortunately did not respond to the treatment and they decided to give her ECT. Her husband was asked to consent to the procedure. She explained that the health professionals reassured her husband that they were confident that she would improve with ECT and he consented to a course of ECT. Her recovery was almost immediate. Within 4 weeks of her treatment she was well enough to have home leave and was discharged with a weekly outpatient appointment. She explains that ECT was the only treatment that worked for her. She viewed ECT as a lifesaver and described it as “pressing the reset button,” allowing you to get back to who you were before. ECT only affected her short term memory, so she could not remember events close to the ECT and the ECT itself. She has been without any illness for 23 years now.  

Catherine explained that her son had a similar experience twenty years later. After a negative experience of university he became very depressed. Medication helped at first but triggered severe manic psychosis and he was admitted to hospital. During his time in hospital he was put on the highest doses of antipsychotics and mood stabilisers, which simply did not work. She and her partner felt that they constantly pushed for ECT as they were sure it would work, as it had done for her in the past. Eventually the consultant administered ECT and there was an instant improvement, although full recovery was more gradual. She felt that some health professionals still have reservations about recommending ECT to patients but that it’s important not to discourage early intervention. 

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