Electroconvulsive Treatment

Lorraine and Annie

Female

Brief outline: Lorraine and Annie’s mother had her first major episode of depression when she was in her early 40s. Later, when she was in her 70s, she became very unwell after her husband and son died within a few months of each other. She was given anti-depressant medicines and tranquilisers but was then offered ECT. Lorraine and Annie agreed to try it. They now think that ECT led to a big improvement in her well-being.

Background: Lorraine, age 52, works as a cleaner and lives by herself but close to their mother. Annie (Lorraine’s sister), age 50, works as a nursery supervisor, is married and has two children. She also lives close by. They described their ethnic background as White British.

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Lorraine and Annie come from a large and very close family. Their mum had eight children, one of whom sadly died. They now care for their mother who is having maintenance ECT for depression and anxiety.

Lorraine and Annie said that their mother had been through a ‘terrible depression’ when she was in her early 40s. They felt this was associated with the menopause and with their dad who was ‘very domineering’. Their mother wasn’t allowed to wear makeup, had few friends of her own and didn’t make her own decisions. She had agoraphobia and was prescribed Valium (diazepam). At the time the doctor suggested that she have ECT, but her husband didn’t allow it. Now Lorraine and Annie have wondered whether if she had had ECT years ago she would have improved earlier. 

Their father passed away at the same time as their brother. During that time Lorraine also diagnosed with, and successfully treated for, breast cancer. Annie and Lorraine didn’t know when their mum’s mourning for her loss turned into depression. Eventually they got the doctors involved and their mother was prescribed tranquilisers and anti-depressants. Even on medication, they felt she had no quality of life. 

Lorraine and Annie had both heard of ECT years ago, but a consultant explained it to them. They were very sceptical about ECT at first, but when they heard more about it they thought it was worth trying as their mother was in a ‘sedated kind of coma’. They worried that their mum, by now in her mid-70s, was too old to withstand it. They were given information about the procedure in leaflet form. They wanted information from people who had actually been through the treatment themselves and were able to speak to people in the clinic who reassured them. Before being offered ECT, their mother was tested for lots of other conditions. Lorraine and Annie felt the decision to have ECT was in the hands of the family since their mother would probably do whatever they advised. They both felt lucky that they could access such high quality care and that the psychiatrist and the GP were so helpful. At first they felt as though the consultant was arrogant but over time they developed a good relationship with him.

When they went to the ECT suite, they were nervous. However as soon as they went in, the staff were very friendly and efficient. They took good care of everyone. When they saw their mother after her first treatment they were warned she would look quite drained. They noticed her memory was badly affected, and Annie and Lorraine felt quite scared. However her memory soon came back, and now when that happens they feel able to reassure her. After having ECT their mum would sleep for most of the day. 

Their mum had 9 treatments and then stopped having ECT. However after two months she went downhill again. She then had another 8 treatments with the option of having ‘top up’ ECT once a month. Annie and Lorraine said that their mother never minded going to hospital and never moaned. She did, however, always want to come home and not to stay in the hospital as an inpatient. 

Now their mother has been able to go out the house for the first time in 18 months. She even attended a family function. She still takes lorazepam (a tranquiliser) and the consultant thinks she is addicted to them. Lorraine and Annie think that she should keep taking them as it improves her quality of life. They are in disagreement with the consultant about this. 

They feel that if their mum hadn’t had ECT she would still be in her bedroom doing breathing exercises for her anxiety. They felt that they were lucky to hear about ECT because people they had spoken to didn’t know about the treatment. Caring for their mum is very difficult work but they get support from each other and the family. Sometimes they found it difficult to talk to other people about ECT as people didn’t know about the treatment. Although they thought she will always be a “home body”, their mum is able to interact and to do more activities now.

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