Electroconvulsive therapy, commonly called ECT, was developed in 1938. During the period following its introduction, ECT was found effective for treating multiple psychiatric illnesses, especially depression. With the development of psychiatric medications and stigma associated with ECT in the 1960's, the use of ECT treatment declined. The use of ECT has increased since the 1970's because of improved treatment delivery methods, increased safety and comfort measures, and enhanced anesthesia management. ECT is the most effective treatment for severe mental illness and is an extremely safe treatment.
ECT is most commonly used to treat patients with severe depression who fail to respond to medications or who are unable to tolerate the side effects associated with the medications. ECT may also be the treatment of choice for patients who need a more rapid response than medications can provide. This would include those who are severely agitated, delusional, suicidal, not eating or drinking, as well as those who suffer from catatonia (a potentially life threatening trance-like state).
The use of ECT is not limited to the treatment of depression. It may also be used to stabilize bipolar illness during extreme episodes of mania or depression. Additionally, ECT can be used to halt psychotic episodes associated with schizophrenia. Once these individuals are stabilized, medications are started or resumed.