Shock therapy: New twist on an old treatment for depression

FRESNO, Calif.

The past six years have been anything but easy for Jim and Amy Adkins. Jim suffers from severe depression that started when his dad committed suicide.

"I basically would get up and sit on the couch and stare at the wall," Jim Adkins said.

It got so bad this father of three nearly followed in his dad's footsteps.

"I attempted suicide twice. I was just at the end of my rope," Jim said.

Drugs and therapy didn't work, so Jim's doctor told him about shock therapy, now known as ECT.

"I was a little reluctant, skeptical, and scared," Jim said.

Duke psychiatrist Richard Weiner says ECT has been used since the 1930s, but Hollywood gave it a bad rap.

"For a lot of the public, what they know about ECT is what they saw on one flew over the cuckoo's nest. The treatments don't look anything like they used to look," Richard Weiner, M.D., PhD, a professor of psychiatry at Duke University School of Medicine, explained.

Jim's on his thirteenth treatment. Doctors first give him general anesthesia and a muscle relaxer. Once Jim's asleep, doctors deliver a quick electrical current that causes a seizure in the brain. The seizure produces chemical changes in the brain that reduce the depressive symptoms.

"The same kind of neurotransmitter changes that occur with antidepressants also occur with ETC," Dr. Weiner said. "It's just that ECT does it more powerfully."

There's no pain, and studies show for those who are good candidates, ECT works between 80 and 90 percent of the time. There are risks including headache, muscle pain, nausea and temporary memory problems, still, Jim's happy he gave it a try. Since starting ECT, he hasn't had any thoughts of suicide.

"Now, there's hope," Jim said. "I see a future."

The number of patients using ECT has tripled since the 1980s. Most patients will need follow-up treatments or other drug therapies after ECT. The shock therapy is mainly used for patients with severe, debilitating depression.

If you would like more information, please contact:
Sarah Avery
Senior Media Relations Specialist
Duke Medicine News and Communications
(919) 660-1306
sarah.avery@duke.edu

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