Electroconvulsive Treatment


Age at interview: 64

Brief outline: Sheila was always against ECT because she used to help out in an ECT suite 20 years ago. However, when her husband experienced problems she found out more information about ECT and thought it may help him. Now she doesn’t feel it has helped him very much but has seen it benefit others.

Background: Sheila is a retired nursery nurse, has two children, and cares for her husband who suffers with anxiety and depression. She describes herself White British.

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Sheila’s husband always experienced bouts of depression and anxiety. Over the years he has had to have time off from work when he felt unwell. Sheila says that it used to be a family joke that her husband had OCD type tendencies but over the last three or four years he has been diagnosed with OCD and Sheila feels he has now become ‘quite poorly’. Now she says that the anxiety he experiences never goes away and the thoughts and fears he has (about killing her and other family members) cause him a great deal of distress. 

About eight years ago Sheila’s husband had to give up work on a permanent basis because of depression and anxiety. Sheila also finished full time work so that she could be with him. Her husband has taken a total of six overdoses and these experiences have affected their whole family. She says each day she doesn’t quite know what will happen. Her husband has had some psychological therapy but it wasn’t working as well as they’d hoped. After his first overdose he was admitted to a psychiatric. He came home but took other overdoses and has spent time in other wards. Sheila thought that the medication he was prescribed didn’t help him as he still had pervasive thoughts.

Sheila’s feelings about ECT go back to 20 years when she worked in a mental health unit. She felt she wouldn’t like for any of her family members to have ECT but was later offered ECT as a treatment for her husband. She felt like she wanted to investigate the treatment thoroughly and looked up lots of information about the treatment. She was taken around the ECT suite which she thought was helpful and spent some time with the staff nurse to talk her through the process. She had discussed it for about 2 weeks and decided to go for it because she felt that her husband could benefit from it after seeing how other people had progressed and how things had changed compared to the old treatment. 

After the first ECT treatment Sheila’s husband (aged 65) was in his bed and felt ‘really strange’. However, the next day he did feel a lot better so Sheila felt it was the initial treatment he reacted to. At first the ECT didn’t seem to have much effect on him. He felt strange and funny and she was told that he wasn’t having proper seizures after five treatments so they didn’t offered him any more sessions. She was told that this may be due to the anti-seizure medication he was taking for a stroke and a previous overdose. The consultant reviewed his case and he had six more session where he had “proper seizures”. He wasn’t sure whether he wanted to have the treatments but he did opt for them in the end. Sheila feels that unfortunately, although it did help him to start with, ECT didn’t help him in the long run. She found that doctors followed up with her husband at three months and then six months, to see how he was feeling and they did a series of mini tests about his cognitive abilities. They asked him about how he was feeling and if he felt the ECT had helped him. 

Once a month Sheila goes to a carer’s support group. She says that she has made a lot of friends through her husband’s illness. She likes the carers’ cafe where treatments are offered. She feels like she has a good support network as well. She has also asked them to attend meeting with health professionals. 

She finds that her husband’s mental health has had quite a knock on effect on her well-being and she herself has been taking anti-depressants. Now she just wants him to be able to spend time with the family or as a couple and be able to enjoy it.


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