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Published on April 05, 2022

illustration of depression and life stressors

Patient Finds Help for Severe Depression with ECT

Depression can convince its sufferers that life is out of control and not worth living. Lisa Muldbakken knows that fact. When her depression was its worst, she felt enclosed in a dark place. Counseling and medication shed some light, but things really started to change when she tried electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

“I’ve been anxious since I was a child, and a few years ago, I felt like all control was lost,” said Muldbakken.

With her husband away in the U.S. Navy, her father aging and her own breast cancer diagnosis, her major depression and its darkness nearly overwhelmed her. Avera Behavioral Health professionals recommended ECT.

“After the ECT sessions, everything seemed more vibrant, and my head isn’t so heavy,” she said. “There is some memory loss, but the relief is significant,” she said.

Understanding ECT and Depression

ECT is a treatment that’s used for people with major depression, bipolar or schizoaffective disorders. It can be an option when medication is not resolving symptoms.

ECT treatment works by producing changes in brain chemistry through a medically induced and professionally monitored seizure. It often produces positive outcomes more quickly than medications alone. In fact, people who receive ECT as their primary treatment generally experience 80-90% improvement in area such as mood, motivation, interest, energy and sleep patterns.

During ECT treatment, highly trained professionals use electrical current to produce a closely supervised, medically induced seizure. Patients receive sedation for comfort and relaxation, and are asleep during the procedure under constant medical supervision.

Why ECT Makes a Difference for Depression Patients

ECT was pioneered in the 1930s. Researchers hypothesized that seizures could treat people with schizophrenia based on observations of people with epilepsy. In reality, they found that seizures were most effective treating mood disorders.

“ECT is not a first-line treatment, it is for conditions with severity,” said Matthew Stanley, DO, Avera Behavioral Health psychiatrist. “It can really help people for whom medications are no longer providing relief and affects a broad spectrum of issues.”

Depression and anxiety medications have limitations due to the chemical nature in which they operate. Meds affect certain pathways, receptors and parts of the brain. ECT, however, is a physical effect, and therefore it can have a more broad-spectrum affect for the patient.

“The treatment has evolved greatly, and patients have a lot more comfort and the situation is closely monitored for ECG and brain waves – it’s a very safe procedure,” Stanley said.

Since severe cases of depression can lead to catatonic or psychotic states of mind, ECT prevents the worst from occurring. It can be considered for patients who are working with a psychiatrist, so that the after-care aspects of the therapy occur properly,” he said.

Help Continues with Maintenance Treatments

Since beginning ECT, Muldbakken has been able to gradually reduce the frequency.

One of the hardest parts of depression is feeling like you’re a condition. “The whole team, not just my psychiatrist, but everyone, they treat me like a human,” she said. “They keep me in the center of the entire process.”

“A person with depression has an illness like cancer or diabetes,” she said. “I trust my team and they have helped me so much. I don’t want to go back to the dark space.”

Learn more about behavioral health treatments that may help you or your loved ones.

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