‘Shock therapy’ still used for depression, postpartum psychosis

March 21st, 2012 by | Permalink

Electroshock therapy machine. Photo via public domain.

You’d be surprised to know that shock therapy–the bombardment of the brain with electrical currents–is still used in modern medicine. What’s even more surprising is that it’s the most effective method of treating people with severe depression, including postpartum psychosis.

Back in the 1930′s, doctors would induce brain seizures through the application of electricity to the skull. These seizures would last upwards of a minute, and afterwards, the patient was mildly relieved of his or her symptoms.

The reason behind this depression abatement is that shock therapy, or electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) as it is now known, disrupts overactive neurons in the brain, essentially ceasing the over-thought process associated with depression and stress.

Modern methods are less erratic, relying on measured amounts of electricity and anesthetic. According to the Yahoo! news article, 75 to 85 percent of people who receive ECT are relieved of their symptoms. While use of this  controversial method has seen success, experts still caution that no one is exactly sure what the long-term effects of electrical stimulation of the brain are.

Dr. Laura Gilley-Hensley, of the University of Utah Neuropsychiatric Institute, stated in the article that no one knew why ECT worked better than traditional antidepressants, and that the procedure is currently reserved for use only in suicide-risk or previously untreatable cases.

According to the Mayo Clinic, shock therapy is sometimes used for postpartum psychosis as well. Postpartum psychosis is a more serious form postpartum depression whereby patients can become delusional or unstable. This therapy along with anti-depression and anti-anxiety drugs are still routinely used for clinical cases of the ‘baby blues’.

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