Electroconvulsive Treatment


Age at interview: 60

Brief outline: When Steve first met his wife, over 30 years ago, she had already had ECT for depression. During various periods of depression, she had ECT when nothing else worked. Only recently has Steve described himself as a ‘carer’ and says that there are long periods in between episodes of depression where his wife is well.

Background: Steve is a graphic designer, is married and has two children. He describes his wife’s ethnic background as White British.

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Steve’s first experience of serious mental health problems was over 30 years ago when he met his wife. His wife had already experienced mental health issues before they met and had already been treated for depression using ECT. Steve thinks that ECT has worked for her when nothing else has. He described how there used to be ‘a positive response’ within days of his wife having ECT, and that within a week she showed signs of a ‘strong recovery’. During these early admissions to hospital, Steve received guidance from his wife’s parents, as they had had previous experience of their daughter’s condition and treatment. He would also find out about ECT through his wife’s account, not via clinicians. 

Steve described how although his wife was diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder, “99%” of the episodes were when she was depressed. His wife would experience suicidal thoughts, not want to wake up in the morning and go into ‘a complete black hole’. In the early days, she was treated at a private hospital close to where they lived. He described how the psychiatrist usually made the decision to perform ECT within a week of her admission and she would have around six sessions of ECT. Later, his wife experienced a period of postnatal depression. After ECT treatment she had to be reminded what her second child looked like. He thinks her memory was significantly affected in the short-term but Steve thought that that memory loss may have helped her get over depression in first instance, helping ‘jump start’ her out of depression. 

Steve felt that his wife’s depression can come seemingly out of the blue, and that there are long periods between episodes where she is not depressed. When she was depressed, his main responsibility was to take over the care of their two children. Now the children are grown up, he relies on them as well for support and understanding when his wife becomes unwell. It has been only recently Steve began to think of himself as a “carer”. He met with his local MIND group and was told he was entitled a bursary for a break. Steve has preferred talking to people one on one, and not with a group.  

Now one of his roles is to notice signs of when his wife is starting to over organise lots of activities i.e. when she starts to become unwell, and to step in and cancel some of her arrangements for her. Although he feels able to speak to friends about his wife’s mental health, Steve has been a little more cautious about telling people his wife works with about her mental health. He has found that previously people have been a bit ’squeamish’ about ECT and that they didn’t know very much about it. 

Steve’s wife is now treated by the NHS. She is treated as an outpatient which Steve prefers as he thinks the atmosphere in the wards isn’t therapeutic. He had difficulty arranging transport for his wife after the ECT sessions, as he wasn’t always available to pick her up. Steve gets the impression that ECT is increasingly used as a ‘last resort’, and yet is the only treatment that has really worked for his wife’s depression. He also has noticed that whereas she used to respond within the first few treatments to ECT, she now has 10 treatments and may only respond after the course has finished. His wife gets anxious when ECT no longer works as fast as it used to.


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