Practice A Patient’s Journey

Electroconvulsive therapy

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: (Published 30 December 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a2998
  1. Matthew Webber, carer1
  1. 1Newcastle under Lyme
  1. Correspondence to: C Thompson, Specialist Registrar in Liaison Psychiatry, Harplands Hospital, Hilton Road, Stoke on Trent ST4 6TH cathmjthompson{at}
  • Accepted 3 November 2008

A carer describes the experiences of depression that led his wife to have electroconvulsive therapy and the effect of this treatment on the whole family

When my wife, Ana, suffered a depressive episode in 2001 after the birth of our daughter, we took it seriously but at first we weren’t excessively worried. Ana was no stranger to depression, having been diagnosed with it in 1990. The illness had always responded to medication, and we were both confident it would again. But something in the equation had changed. Drug after drug was tried. We tried to identify what in our lives might be dragging her down, but we couldn’t find anything. Our relationship was great, the children were doing well at school, money wasn’t a problem—we should have both been very happy. I watched as Ana, one of the most incredibly active people I’d ever met, shut down by degrees. We stopped going out for walks, shopping, and even just chatting to the neighbours. The situation worsened rapidly until Ana was admitted to hospital in March 2003 in such a dire state that she was immediately placed on 15 minute suicide observation. The doctors decided then to put Ana on a programme of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) to lift her mood. The improvement was rapid and quite profound.

It is worth relating what really severe depression is like to live with. Formal medical jargon is specifically designed to be objective and deliberately strips emotive descriptions away to leave a clear picture for the practitioner. But depression affects the emotions; indeed it’s all about emotion. To people with depression and their carers, phrases such as “low motivation,” “poor self esteem,” and “persistent low mood” are all miracles of understatement. To me as a carer, it feels as if some malign, intangible entity has …

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