Electroconvulsive Therapy Service

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Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a mental health treatment, done under general anesthesia, in which small electric currents are passed through the brain. The electric currents cause a brief seizure, on purpose. After ECT, doctors see changes in a patient’s brain chemistry. Those changes can quickly reverse symptoms of some mental illnesses.

Is ECT Safe?

ECT is much safer today than it once was. Early treatment methods – done without anesthesia – led to memory loss and other serious side effects. Although ECT still causes some side effects, it is now done safely to achieve the most benefit with the fewest possible risks.

Severe depression, particularly when accompanied by detachment from reality (psychosis), a desire to commit suicide or refusal to eat.

What Mental Illnesses can ECT Treat?

  • Severe depression, especially with psychosis (detachment from reality), a desire to commit suicide, or refusal to eat
  • Depression that doesn't improve with medications or other treatments
  • Severe mania, intense euphoria (joy), agitation, or hyperactivity that happens as part of bipolar disorder
  • Catatonia (when someone is not moving at all, moving strangely, and not talking, among other symptoms), which is associated with schizophrenia and some other mental disorders
  • Agitation and aggression in people with dementia

ECT is sometimes used as a treatment option in special cases where medications can’t be used, and other therapies haven’t worked, including:

  • When older adults who are sensitive to drug side effects
  • For people who prefer ECT treatments over taking medications

What to Expect When Choosing Electroconvulsive Therapy at Baystate Health

Our experienced team of psychiatrists, anesthesiologists, and nurses will work together to guide you throughout the ECT process.

First, we provide a full evaluation to find out if you are a candidate for ECT. You and your family will receive information about what to expect and how to prepare.

ECT can be done while you are hospitalized (inpatient) or as an outpatient procedure. Usually, ECT treatments are given two to three times weekly for three to four weeks — for a total of six to 12 treatments. Talk with your doctor about what your treatment plan will look like.

After you have completed all of your ECT treatments, our care team will recommend next steps, including advice about medications or maintenance (ongoing) ECT.

ECT Results and Follow-up

People often notice their symptoms starting to get better after about six treatments. Full improvement may take longer. ECT also may not work for everyone.

Even after your symptoms improve, you'll need ongoing depression treatment. Often, ongoing treatment includes psychological counseling and/or antidepressants or other medications. Ongoing treatment may also include occasional (maintenance) ECT.

Referrals and Appointments

We accept patient referrals from community providers and other hospitals. For questions or referrals, please call 413-794-0061 between 8 am and 5 pm, Monday through Friday.

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