Electroconvulsive Treatment



Brief outline: Yvonne had a difficult relationship with her mother and experienced abuse as a child. Aged 18 she was admitted to a hospital and eventually received ECT, which she did not want to have. In hindsight, although she found ECT frightening, she thinks it was the start of her recovery.

Background: Yvonne works for an organisation that looks after children with addition needs, is married and has a daughter. She describes her ethnic background as White Scottish.

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Yvonne had a difficult relationship with her mother growing up. Her mother was an alcoholic which left Yvonne taking a lot of responsibility from an early age. She also had to cope with a lot of abuse in the relationship and was put into a children’s home when she was 13 as her mother had battered her unconscious. Looking back, she wished that the psychologist she had seen had probed a little a deeper as it might have helped uncover the problems she was experiencing. She wishes help had come sooner. Eventually she was kicked out of home and lived with another family.

At the age of 18 she hadn’t heard much about mental health before and didn’t know that the things she was experiencing might be connected with her mental health. She took an overdose but when that failed she just went to work as normal, despite having what felt like the ‘mother of all hangovers’. Her supervisor contacted mental health services and soon she went to a local psychiatric hospital. By this stage she felt so unwell she can barely remember going to hospital, but thought that the hospital might be like a spa. She realised it wasn’t anything like that but thought she would only be in there for a short period. Despite only being admitted for a weekend assessment, she was sectioned and the hospital admission lasted six months. 

When in hospital she said that different medication she was prescribed and different therapies (such as art therapy and a talking therapy) didn’t seem to work and so doctors decided that they would try ECT. She can remember not knowing what it was, how it would work or why it might work. Looking back she doesn’t know whether she would have been capable of taking much information in. Yvonne said she rebelled and kept running away from the hospital. Eventually they decided to give her the treatment asking her mum to sign the papers. Because she didn’t have a good relationship with her mother she felt this wasn’t right and remembers hating anyone who was involved with her ECT treatment for years afterwards. She remembers being petrified of the treatment itself and being wheeled into the treatment room in a wheelchair – which she thought was unnecessary. She was then wheeled through the ward and one of her friends was convinced they had caused her real harm. She had an extremely bad headache afterwards. After eight sessions she didn’t respond in the way that doctor hoped she would have done. There was another court order issued and she had more ECT which she felt was ‘never ending’. However near the end of the sessions she said it did ‘start to work’. She began to be conscious of where she was and what year it was. Yvonne felt that it was a ‘horrific, terrifying experience’ but it was ‘what she needed to become well’. Yvonne feels that if she hadn’t have had ECT she wouldn’t be alive today as she felt she would have committed suicide.

Yvonne feels that people need to have more information about ECT and she still doesn’t know fully how it works. Her memory of her experience is poor but she doesn’t know if that was because of the illness or ECT. She felt quite embarrassed when she realised what she looked like after her treatment and it felt quite undignified. 

Her current diagnosis is “borderline personality disorder” and “chronic post traumatic stress”, but she says she has had a few diagnoses over the years. She received a lot of counselling after ECT and found that helpful. The depression had become better so she was able to grip what people were saying in counselling sessions. She now has support from her family and a drop in centre where she trusts the staff. She is on Trazodone, an old fashioned anti-depressant medication, which she feels keeps her well. When she tried a newer medication she became unwell. She now takes medication as if for a chronic condition to keep her ‘on an even keel’. 

Recovery itself she found daunting as she had to adapt to reality again and she was used to being ill. She found there was a comfort in being ill as that is what she was used to. She found it was often fellow patients who filled her in on what she was acting like and what she had done. The majority of the time the nurses sat in the office.


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