El Paso, Texas -- Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) is a technique that has been used for nearly 90-years on patients dealing with severe depression and bipolar disorder. Many films portray ECT as a scary and violent "electro-shock" treatment, but one El Paso psychiatrist is hoping to break that stigma by informing the public on the positive evolution of what he call a safe and effective therapy.
"It’s very safe," said Dr. Arthur Ramirez, medical director of ECT for El Paso Behavioral Health Systems. "It’s not what you see in 'One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest.' That was 50 years ago. The technique now is safe, it's under general anesthesia and It's painless."
ECT is a modern technique that doctors use to treat severe depression when a patient is not responding to medicine or psychotherapy or both.
El Paso Behavioral Health Systems is currently the only facility in the Borderland that provides this therapy to those in need. Despite the negative way ECT therapy is depicted in Hollywood movies, Ramirez says that patients who undergo the therapy have had nothing but positive results.
"We’ve had about an 80-percent success rate and we’re really proud of that because patients truly get better,” said Ramirez.
In order to receive the treatment, patients must be referred for a consultation by two of their physicians. Once approved, they receive a physical examination and before the procedure they are put to sleep under general anesthesia.
"Then we have a small instrument that delivers a very small amount of electricity to the temple," explained Ramirez, "When I say small amount its about 60-watt seconds and that causes a convulsion in the brain while the patient is asleep. When the brain has a convulsion it showers itself with neurotransmitters, some blood flow changes and we believe thats two reasons why it works.”
The mean age range for the treatment is between 30 to 35 years old. According to Dr. Ramirez, in some cases the older the patient the quicker the response to ECT is.
Common side effects after the treatment include muscle aches, nausea and very brief memory loss.
Ramirez hopes that educating the community on this effective treatment will not only break the stigma behind mental health treatments, but he hopes it helps to bring down the number of suicides that occur every year.
"Patients have said to me, you know there's a point there where I almost lost hope whats the use of living this way, and that's when the danger comes," said Ramirez, "So thats why I think its important for ECT to be considered to manage depression."
Ramirez added that ECT therapy is not a substitution for medication but the therapy can help lower a patients medicine dosage.
For more information on whether you qualify for the treatment, click here.