Electroconvulsive Treatment

Jane

Female
Age at interview: 38

Brief outline: Jane felt unwell in 2009 when her children were 2 & 4, and was admitted to hospital but discharged shortly after. In 2010, age 36, she was readmitted and had 7 and later another 12 sessions of ECT. Now she is recovering, has had a 3rd child and is finding support from yoga and church, and has more confidence in herself as a mother.

Background: Jane is a mental health worker and lives with her husband and three children. She describes her ethnic background as White British.

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Jane first noticed that she was becoming unwell in July 2009. She became worried about making small decisions and about the development of her children. Her colleagues also noticed that she was ill as she had hidden under her desk at work. Jane says that as a mother she became paranoid about child abuse and worried that her actions were somehow causing accidents. Her GPs notes state that she was prescribed venlaflaxin (an antidepressant) and an antipsychotic (olanzapine). Jane had a friend who was a psychiatric nurse who helped get her a referral to an Early intervention Team.

After this time, Jane finds it difficult to remember exactly what happened. She went into hospital voluntarily as she didn’t want be ‘sectioned’. As she had done social work training, she was aware of the process. She can remember seeing the ECT suite when she first came in and that she had ECT during her second stay on the ward. Life on the ward wasn’t always nice, and Jane thinks that it is a shame adult psychiatric wards aren’t more like mother and baby psychiatric units. 

She was prescribed an antidepressant called lofepramine and an antipsychotic called aripiprazole. During her second admission to hospital, just after childbirth, she was given ECT due to concerns about her deteriorating relationship with her children. She had 7 ECT treatments, but then changed consultants, and her ECT was stopped for a time. Because of this, time elapsed between treatments and when she resumed having ECT she had to have 19 sessions of ECT overall. Jane remembers once having had ECT as an outpatient in the morning and then actually competing in a “Mum’s race” at her child’s school in the afternoon. 

Jane can remember she had ECT twice a week and described it as a ‘still point in a turning world’. Staff took great care of her throughout the process. Jane waited in the anteroom, went through to the main room, had a general anaesthetic and then came around in the recovery room. After treatment she would have a bit of a ‘woozy day’, which she said she quite liked. Jane started to get better and went to stay in a cabin in the woods with her family and can remember feeling better.

Jane isn’t sure that antidepressants alleviated her anxiety but made her gain weight; and she felt that antipsychotics slowed her down. Despite feeling that nobody knows exactly how ECT works, she felt that ECT helped her recover. She also feels that psychotherapy helped her in a constructive way. Since having ECT, Jane has thought a lot about her relationship to her parents, her upbringing, her approach to faith, the amount of physical affection she was given as a child and in turn how physically affectionate she is to her own children. Jane told her consultant that if she became ill after the birth of her child that she wanted ECT to be considered very quickly as she would rather have ECT than ‘mess around’ with medication. Jane thinks people don’t know enough about ECT and only hear about it from the film “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s nest”. She also thinks health professionals should still maximise the opportunity for people to make a choice about their treatment, however ill they may seem. The information needs to be broken down into very small, manageable chunks.

Overall Jane struggles to remember periods of time when she was very depressed, for example in her teenage years. However, she found ECT only affected her short-term memory, temporarily and not her longer-term memory. 

Now she finds support from a yoga group and an open house organisation. She has more faith in her instincts as a mother now and trusts her own judgement more.

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