Electroconvulsive Treatment


Age at interview: 51

Brief outline: Kathleen had a couple of episodes of depression when she was in the UK, which were treated with anti-depressants. She moved to Canada and then was admitted to hospital on several occasions. Kathleen had 2 courses of ECT as an inpatient (24 and 18 treatments) and one outpatient maintenance ECT treatment.

Background: Kathleen currently lives with her parents in the UK, has two children and is separated from her husband. She describes her ethnic background as White British.

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In 2003-4 Kathleen experienced a couple of episodes of depression which were treated with antidepressants, although she thinks she had experienced depression previously. 

Kathleen felt that her depression got worse because of the stress of her husband working in Nigeria for a time when she had two young children. Then the family moved out to Canada where she didn’t have many close friends. She felt isolated as she lived 11km up a road towards a ski hill and her husband was away at work again. Later she impulsively took an overdose. She had her first hospital admission in March 2007 and it was after that she had some time off to recover. She was admitted under the name “Jane Doe” as she was the local doctor and staff felt it was important to maintain her privacy. She also made the decision to separate from her husband during this time and moved out in February 2008 with her children. 

The next hospital admission she had was in 2009 where she was in hospital for another couple of months. She wasn’t offered ECT but tried different antidepressants. Although she felt better, she felt she didn’t return to ‘normal’. She found the continued stress of the separation and medical exams very difficult but had a supportive psychiatrist and saw him for outpatient appointments. She found that although she could cope on the surface, underneath she was struggling. Sometime later she was referred to a tertiary referral centre, then to a mood disorders clinic in Canada, initially for assessment, and went ‘down hill’ very quickly here. She made a serious attempt to kill herself whilst one the unit, had one to one nursing and was held under a section of the mental health act. In the end she was on the unit from November 2009 until February 2010. It was during this time she had her first course of ECT treatment, age 48. 

Kathleen doesn’t remember a lot about the ECT treatments she had, but she did keep a diary around this time. She remembers being shown a video about ECT and remembers little bits about the preparation before ECT. Her mother from the UK did speak to the doctor during her stay but wasn’t involved in the decision to have ECT. She had 24 treatments in total, which she now thinks is a lot of treatments. The first treatment left her with a very bad headache and jaw ache. Afterwards she found that she couldn’t remember the number of her bank card or password to her computer. Sometimes she forgot the directions to places even though she knew them well. However those memory problems all wore off. Kathleen felt she ‘definitely did respond’ as she can remember not feeling actively suicidal anymore. She was very upset she wasn’t allowed home for Christmas, even though she knew she wasn’t stable at the time. They arranged for her to have maintenance ECT when she went back to her home town. She says this was the worst ECT she has ever had thinks they ‘totally fried her brain’. She has no memory of an entire weekend and refused to have anymore ECT after that. She was left to walk home on her own, even though she had arranged a lift. But she said she ‘wasn’t at all with it’ when her daughter found her. 
After an extended period of absence she had lost her job although she had successfully passed her medical exams in Canada. Kathleen had another admission to hospital in 2010 for 2 months following a suicide attempt but didn’t have ECT this time, and changed medication.  

In April 2011 she had emergency ECT during an admission after a serious attempt on her life. She felt that it ‘definitely did work’ and her consultant was convinced there was a response. She hasn’t had ECT in the UK. She still has very negative thoughts but is seeing a psychologist and also a “lovely” psychiatrist who she sees every six weeks as well as attending weekly group therapy and seeing a community psychiatric nurse regularly. Kathleen is concerned about the side effects from medication and is particularly bothered about the weight gain as she has gained at least 50-60 pounds in weight.

Kathleen feels they handed over her care between countries very well on her return to the UK. She feels things are getting better and has only been in hospital once in the last year. 


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