Many people begin to notice an improvement in their symptoms after about six treatments with electroconvulsive therapy. Full improvement may take longer, though ECT may not work for everyone. Response to antidepressant medications, in comparison, can take several weeks or more.
No one knows for certain how ECT helps treat severe depression and other mental illnesses. What is known, though, is that many chemical aspects of brain function are changed during and after seizure activity. These chemical changes may build upon one another, somehow reducing symptoms of severe depression or other mental illnesses. That's why ECT is most effective in people who receive a full course of multiple treatments.
Even after your symptoms improve, you'll still need ongoing depression treatment to prevent a recurrence. Ongoing treatment may be ECT with less frequency, but more often, it includes antidepressants or other medications, or psychological counseling (psychotherapy).
March 29, 2017
- Kellner C. Overview of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) for adults. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Aug. 26, 2015.
- Kellner C. Technique for performing electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) in adults. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Aug. 26, 2015.
- AskMayoExpert. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2014.
- ECT, TMS and other brain stimulation therapies. National Alliance on Mental Illness. https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Treatment/ECT,-TMS-and-Other-Brain-Stimulation-Therapies. Accessed Aug. 26, 2015.
- Depression: How electroconvulsive therapy works. FamilyDoctor.org. http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/depression/treatment/how-electroconvulsive-therapy-works.html. Accessed Aug. 26, 2015.
- Brain stimulation therapies. National Institute of Mental Health. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/brain-stimulation-therapies/brain-stimulation-therapies.shtml. Accessed Aug. 26, 2015.
- Acharya D, et al. Safety and utility of acute electroconvulsive therapy for agitation and aggression in dementia. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. 2015;30:265.
- Kellner C. Unipolar major depression in adults: Indications for and efficacy of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Aug. 26, 2015.
- Rasmussen KG, et al. An open-label, pilot study of daily right unilateral ultrabrief pulse electroconvulsive therapy. Journal of ECT. In press. Accessed Aug. 27, 2015.
- Rassmussen KG (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Aug. 27, 2015.
- Kung S (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Aug. 29, 2015.