Electricity-based mental illness therapies have been seen in a negative light for decades. Even people who might benefit from these treatments have rejected them. That’s in part because the nickname for electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is alarming and derogatory: shock therapy. Recently, there has been a surge of interest in electric therapies, such as ECT. Less invasive forms of electromagnetic treatment, like transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), are generating interest too.
One reason for the renewed interest in electric therapies is how effective they are. In fact, ECT is more effective than prescription antidepressants. Only two-thirds of patients with severe depression find even modest relief with prescription drugs. Even fewer experience full remission of their depression. In contrast, a 2004 study showed that 92% of patients had a significant reduction in symptoms after ECT. Around 75% achieved full remission.
Why Does the Stigma Exist?
The general aversion that many people have to electric therapies comes down to two things that have to do with ECT specifically:
- The early misuse of the treatments
- The resulting bad press
In the early days of ECT—beginning in the 1940s—this treatment was used for many kinds of mental illness. It was also often used to treat people who were mistakenly viewed as having mental illnesses. For instance, a form of ECT was used to “treat” homosexuality, leading to considerable trauma. In short, ECT was often used on people who didn’t need it and gained no benefit.
ECT could be distressing for patients. The correct ECT protocol involved the use of anesthetic and a muscle relaxant. This would put the patient to sleep and prevent bone fractures due to muscle convulsion. But if the medication was misused, the patient would lie awake during treatment. With all their muscles contracting at once, treatment could be very painful.
Another issue was that many patients experienced memory loss after having ECT. In most cases, memory loss after ECT was not permanent, but for some, the lost memories never returned.
The media were eager to publish stories about the horrors of ECT. Within decades, the public consensus was that ECT shouldn’t be used. It was considered outdated, cruel, and ineffective.
When ECT is used correctly by people who are trained and experienced, it can change lives for the better, greatly improving quality of life for people with mental illness, especially those who don’t respond to medication. Now that this is better-known, increasing numbers of people are trying ECT.
What Are Some Other Electric Therapies?
TMS Therapy Offers a Less Invasive Alternative to ECT
Recently, TMS therapy has also helped restore confidence in electric therapy. TMS is a kind of electromagnetic therapy that is less invasive than ECT. It uses a magnetic field to target regions of the brain that contribute to depression, anxiety, OCD, or PTSD.
Unlike ECT, TMS treatments don’t directly introduce an electric shock into the brain. And they’re done as outpatient treatments—no hospital stay required. TMS has almost no side effects, and patients who receive TMS have a high chance of improvement.
TMS is not only a less invasive alternative to ECT. It has also helped to reduce the stigma of electric therapies in general because it offers a gentler, less-intrusive patient experience with good results. This has helped to greatly improve how people perceive electric treatments.
Deep Brain Stimulation for Movement and Psychiatric Disorders
In deep brain stimulation (DBS), a surgeon implants electrodes into the brain. They can be placed into different locations, depending on the purpose of the electrodes. Once implanted, the electrodes give off electrical impulses to regulate abnormal brain activity. A device similar to a pacemaker controls the amount of stimulation the electrodes emit. The pacemaker is implanted into the upper chest, and a wire is placed under the skin to connect the pacemaker and the electrodes.
DBS is currently used to treat:
- Parkinson’s disease
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
Movement disorders such as dystonia and essential tremor can be treated with DBS too.
This treatment is reserved for people who don’t respond to medication and other frontline treatments. Although DBS is minimally invasive, it is a kind of brain surgery. This means it has potentially serious risks and complications.
TENS for Relief from Many Kinds of Pain
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) uses low-voltage electrical current to treat acute and chronic pain. In this therapy, electrodes are placed on the skin at the sites where pain is felt. The electrodes connect to a device that controls the electrical signals. Once the device is turned on, electricity is transmitted from the electrodes to nearby nerve fibers. The electricity prevents pain signals from traveling from those nearby nerves back to the brain. This treatment varies in terms of its efficacy, but it has some important benefits. For instance, no medication is involved, and it’s painless and non-invasive.
TENS can be performed in a clinic by a doctor, physical therapist, or other medical professional. There are also portable, battery-operated devices that people can use at home. TENS machines can relieve chronic and acute pain related to:
- Neck injuries
Get Relief from Depression with TMS Therapy
TMS is a minimally invasive, nearly side-effect-free treatment for depression and other mental health issues. If you suffer from depression and would like to consider TMS therapy, HPR Treatment Centers would be happy to discuss your options with you. Learn more here.