Electroconvulsive Treatment

David Y

Age at interview: 52

Brief outline: David has cared for his partner for many years. Nearly 20 years ago she was offered ECT and David decided she could have this as he was told this was a last resort treatment. David felt she didn’t benefit from it at the time and years later she still suffers from memory problems.

Background: David is 52, lives with his partner and has children. He is a full time carer and describes his ethnic background as White British.

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David said that he didn’t notice his partner’s illness initially. He was working long hours and they had has a young child and so he was very busy. At the time he wasn’t aware that she previously had had an episode of mental ill-health. David thought his partner was just very lethargic and put it down to stress as they had just moved house and she was pregnant with their second child. At a party he felt she wasn’t “right” as she didn’t get involved in anything and he started to notice that she was doing strange things around the house. They called the GP out and she was later admitted to hospital as she had lost her sense of reality. David had never seen inside a psychiatric ward before. He was not impressed with the ward as it just had a day room where people smoked and watched television. Although he says the ward wasn’t ‘violent’ as such, he felt that the people there weren’t properly cared for. The staff didn’t interact with David and he said they barely interacted with his partner. Although his partner was an inpatient, she came home for the weekends. She would sleep 18-20 hours a day. As it got closer to her due date, she was taken home as David was told the ward was not equipped for mothers and babies. His partner gave birth and afterwards she didn’t know ‘what was going on’ and slept a great deal of the time. 

During his partner’s pregnancy, she had taken a low dosage of anti-depressant medication. His partner was offered ECT about a month after the birth of their second child. The consultant said that ECT was a last resort and David decided to consent to it because he was so desperate. David didn’t know much about ECT and thought his partner would only have a couple of treatments, but was told she would have up to 12 treatments. He didn’t feel he had a choice because he wanted her to get better and thought there was nothing else that would help. When he asked for more information he was only given a small leaflet. He wanted to know a lot more about the details of the treatment and why patients got headaches after their treatment. The treatment was carried out in a portakabin where was no room for him to wait. When he saw his partner later, she couldn’t open her eyes and didn’t say anything. He used to take her a drink and she would be trembling whilst drinking. He said that she complained of a severe headache. David didn’t know much about the possible side effects of ECT, including the risk of memory loss. 

After ECT, there were no visible signs of improvement in his partner. One time when he visited her, he told her he couldn’t visit anymore and was surprised that she cried in response to this as it had been so long since she had shown any sort of emotional response. He now thinks that that was the first sign of her returning to health. His partner was given a diagnosis of schizophrenia with negative symptoms i.e. being withdrawn and being emotionally ‘flat’. 

Although David knew people who had benefitted from ECT, he felt that the health services should have taken better care of his partner. He felt his partner was just given paracetamol and not told anything about the procedure. Now his partner wishes that she had never had ECT. His partner’s memory is still poor and she finds it easier to remember things prior to her illness. His partner is now a lot better, although she is still on medication.  

David has struggled with his own mental health and had a breakdown. He had to give up his job and was referred to psychiatric services. He didn’t know what sort of help could have been in place to help him with his caring responsibilities.  He only really learnt about mental health services when he became a service user himself.


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