Monday, May 6, 2013

"Shock Therapy Loses Some of its Shock Value"

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), or shock therapy, has been used to treat depression and other mental disorders since its invention in the 1930's. It's original use was to "tame" mental patients, and was used as a way to calm and sedate, in addition to relieve depression.  ECT was administered to patients while they were fully awake, with or without consent.  The shocks caused seizure-like convulsions which would often brake bones. Patients often suffered from memory loss after the treatment.  Today, ECT is used to treat severely depressed individuals as a means of treatment over antidepressants. Some other reasons for use include a rapid reversal of suicidal depression, use when the depression is "complicated by psychosis or catatonia", during pregnancy (since it is not safe to take drugs during this time period), or when mania or bipolar disorders do not respond to drugs. Shock therapy has come a long way since its first use in the 1930s. Much lower currents of electricity are used to prevent the chance of memory loss and anesthetics and muscle relaxants are given to sedate the patient to prevent them feeling the shocks and prevent the body from convulsion which is potentially very dangerous.  Although ETC has been around for almost a century, it is not known exactly how or why it works. It is thought that the shocks jog the brain and reorders the transmission of neurotransmitters which increase the uptake of serotonin, while others believe it acts as a sort of pace-maker for the brain. ETC is also a much faster solution to treat depression than drugs as its effectiveness kicks in almost immediately.
Despite this, shock therapy is not a cure for depression, only a temporary solution. Treatments must be re-administered every year or so.
The most shocking aspect of this article to me, although only briefly mentioned, was that ETC is administered to pregnant women in place of drugs that could be harmful to the developing baby. I would like to research further into this, since the first thing that comes to my mind is how do the shocks affect the fetus? and do the shocks even reach the fetus at all? Another surprising fact brought up in the article is that it is not known how ECT works to treat depression.  It seems that many things having to do with the brain and mental wellness are still unknown (including drugs for treatment), and it is interesting that treatments are so widely used without knowing how they work. There must be a strong amount of trust that scientists and doctors have, feeling comfortable to give something to the public, without knowing what it does exactly. This also means that these treatments must come about almost by chance, since scientists and doctors did not work backwards, knowing the problem and knowing how those problems are solved, therefore creating a treatment out of it.
Learning about ETC has been a huge eye-opener to me, as when prior to this past week, when I thought of shock therapy, pictures of old, run down mental hospitals and torture devices came to mind. I can blame this on movies and other representations in the media. I am glad to now know that ETC is still very commonly used and has helped to greatly improve the lives of many, who live highly functioning lives in society.


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