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Published on August 07, 2009

ECT Offers Hope to Sufferers of Severe Depression

SIOUX FALLS (Aug. 6, 2009) - After years of depression had sapped her hope, her happiness and even her will to live, Amy Lou Hauge received the gift of a second chance.

Amy Lou and her husband, Richard, are South Dakota natives who now make their home in Florida.

The second chance came in the summer of 2008, when the Hauges were visiting family in South Dakota. An acute episode brought Amy Lou to the Avera Behavioral Health Center, where she received electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT.

"We think of Avera as a place of promise - of hope. Our Lord is a God of second chances and we regard ECT and the Avera Behavioral Health Center as Amy Lou's gift of renewal - a second chance," Richard said.

Richard and Amy Lou say ECT has helped more than any other treatment. "Antidepressants helped some, but not enough to prevent her feelings of uselessness and hopelessness," Richard said.

As an inpatient for 11 days at the Avera Behavioral Center, Amy Lou received three ECT treatments, and then three additional treatments as an outpatient.  "It made a marvelous difference. She went home a new person," Richard said. The positive effect lasted for months. The Hauges could not access ECT in Florida, so when they planned to attend a family reunion in the summer of 2009, they made follow-up appointments at the Avera Behavioral Health Center.  Amy Lou said she was a little fearful of ECT before her first treatment. "I didn't know much about it, but I was willing to try it. I had tried everything else," Amy Lou said.

ECT has been used at Avera since the 1950s, and is still in use today because it can help many patients. "Its popularity has waxed and waned, but it has always shown success," said Dr. Matthew Stanley, psychiatrist with Avera University Psychiatry Associates and medical director for Avera Behavioral Health Services. "In spite of all the advances in drug treatment, some patients don't respond, or they don't respond quickly enough," Dr. Stanley said. The primary illness treated effectively with ECT is depression.

The ECT suite at the Avera Behavioral Health Center is state-of-the-art. Improved technique and technology has made modern ECT safer and much more tolerable than in the past. Patients with severe depression usually receive a course of six to eight treatments. Patients on maintenance ECT may receive a treatment once a month. "We see improvement in almost every area - in mood, motivation, interest, energy and sleep patterns," Dr. Stanley said.

Before undergoing ECT, patients receive muscle blockers and short-term anesthesia, so they are asleep for the procedure. Through electrodes, patients receive a brief, precisely calculated electrical pulse which causes a controlled seizure. "That is the therapeutic part of the treatment," Dr. Stanley said.
While researchers don't completely understand how ECT works, it is thought that seizures cause changes in brain chemistry. Richard said Amy Lou feels a little groggy after an ECT session, and her memory is impaired for a day or so. But otherwise, she suffers no ill effects. And the benefits are striking. "I feel like getting up and doing things and being alive again," Amy Lou said. "I think more people than we realize suffer from depression. ECT helped me a lot and I think it can help others."

Amy Lou has regained her quality of life, and the Hauges credit ECT. "It's been a second chance for Amy Lou," Richard said. "She has experienced a recovery of hope and happiness." For more information about the Avera Behavioral Health Center, go to www.AveraBehavioralHealth.org.