Carrie FisherBelieve it or not, shock therapy, otherwise known as electroconvulsive therapy or ECT, is still used by medical professionals to help tens of thousands of U.S. patients with severe depression issues and other disorders. Actress, author, and new Jenny Craig spokeswoman Carrie Fisher just told Oprah this week, in fact, that she still gets electroshock treatment every six weeks to help with her manic depression. She also talks about her experience with ECT in her one-woman show, Wishful Drinking.
Did you know ECT was still in use?
Carrie Fisher was diagnosed with manic depression (bipolar disorder) in her 20s and has battled severe depression and mental illness throughout her life. Carrie explained ECT to Oprah:
Did you see [film] One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest? Well, it's not like that ... A lot of people have had it that benefited from it ... I had it when I did get into depression that medication could not handle.
Fisher told Joy Behar last year on her show that ECT "makes you feel better" and that she can take less medication because it works so well for her. She also joked on Oprah about the memory loss that usually goes along with ECT, which usually only lasts a few days for most patients: "I don't remember movies I've seen, so I get to see them over and over again."
So how does electroshock treatment work? Dr. Gary Kennedy, director of geriatric psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, uses this metaphor to explain how the seizure-inducing electrical shock works to lift depression:
It reboots the system. Like turning a computer off and when it comes back on they are not as depressed.
The levels of norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin, which play a role in depression, may also change during the procedure. Unfortunately, ECT is not a permanent fix for severe depression, and even those who find some relief from it must receive maintenance therapy (monthly treatments) and continue taking antidepressants to keep from relapsing.
It really is a lot tamer than in the old days in dank mental hospitals. Carrie Fisher explained the procedure to Oprah:
They put you to sleep. They give you a medication so there are no more convulsions or anything ... It's over very quickly and you go home and take a nap ...
It's heartbreaking that anyone has to live with mental illness, but Carrie Fisher seems to be coping, at least now, with humor and a great deal of strength and will. I'm really glad there is a treatment that gives her and other sufferers some relief, despite its challenging side effects, so they can work to carry on a normal life. If you've ever been depressed, then you know it's insufferable and debilitating. I know if I or someone I loved was suffering with severe or ongoing depression, I would try anything to feel better. Wouldn't you?
Were you aware that electric shock therapy is still in use?
Image via Oprah YouTube