Electroconvulsive Treatment

Cathy

Female
Age at interview: 49

Brief outline: Cathy was first diagnosed with mental health problems as a teenager. She first had ECT after an episode of severe depression. Although she found her depression did lift and she was able to function, she experienced memory loss in the short term and longer term. Cathy now has a job and feels that her recovery is two to three steps forward, one step back.

Background: Cathy works as a part time cleaner and volunteers in a plant nursery. She lives with her son and describes her ethnic background as White British.

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Cathy was first diagnosed with a mental health problem in her late teens, but thinks she had suffered with mental health problems before then. She found it hard at school as people just thought she was ‘a bit weird’. Cathy completed a course in nursery nursing but was admitted to hospital for a while during this course. After this she felt ok for a while and even went travelling with a friend, which she enjoyed immensely. On her return, however, ‘things seriously started going wrong’ and she was admitted to hospital for some months. 

Cathy has had various diagnoses over the years including depression and schizophrenia. Cathy moved back to where she grew up and got married. She quite enjoyed being married but only two years later she experienced serious depression. Cathy said this was a very stressful time and one where her and her husband lurched from one crisis to another. This is when Cathy first had ECT. Later, Cathy fell pregnant with her first son and said she never felt as good as when she was pregnant. However, when her son was six months old, she says her health started to deteriorate quite quickly and she ended up in hospital having ECT. She says that although she didn’t like the process of having ECT, that it worked for her and the results were ‘quite good’ although they didn’t always last that long. Later Cathy’s husband left her and around that time she was put on some medication which increased her anxiety levels. The following year she took a ‘massive overdose’ and ended up in intensive care for some time. She was in hospital for months.

Cathy found that ECT affected her memory. She says that there are ‘big chunks that are missing’ that she simply can’t remember. Before having ECT she didn’t know much about it. She can only remember a little about the way in which ECT was explained to her and feels that she was so depressed she couldn’t take in the information. Cathy went to another unit to receive ECT and would go in a taxi with other patients and ‘sit around’ before having the treatment and going back. Cathy described having to lie on a trolley and having the anesthetic. She had a headache afterwards and when she went back to the ward she would lie down for a time. Cathy said ECT definitely affected her short term memory as she would struggle to remember what had happened that day or the day before. However, she found the longer term memory problems more difficult to deal with emotionally and found that doctors haven’t acknowledged that this type of memory loss is connected to ECT. After she had ECT she felt her mood lift, and was able to function better. As time went by she was able to do more and more for herself and look after herself. Cathy became scared of having an anesthetic as she didn’t like the feeling just before she lost consciousness. Eventually she found this so frightening she couldn’t have any more ECT treatments. Cathy feels that the process of having ECT - the waiting around and going to another unit - should be improved. 
She has tried not to think so much about how ECT works, and feels that had it not been a successful treatment for her, she may have thought more about it.  

Cathy says that her recovery has been ‘two or three steps forward, a step back’. Throughout her life she has had four jobs, none of which have lasted very long, but now she has a part time job as a cleaner and hopes to do a diploma in horticulture linked to a local college.
ECT has helped when she was experiencing severe depression and antidepressant medication “played its part” but she feels they have left her flat and colourless.

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