Is Electroconvulsive Therapy Effective for Depression and Bipolar?

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a form of electric treatment that has been used widely to reduce symptoms of depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia. The method involves administering electric pulses to a client and sustaining them at an appropriate frequency and dosage until a desired seizure effect is attained. This allows the client to have specific neurologic pathways affected to minimize psychotic and manic symptoms that are common in schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar affective disorder (BPAD). In recent years, numerous psychotropic medications have been developed as an alternative to ECT, reducing its use significantly. Although they have proved to be effective in the management of many illnesses, medications almost always carry the risk of adverse side effects. Not all individuals with mental health issues respond well to medication, and some are unable or unwilling to adhere to their pharmacologic regimen. For these individuals, ECT may still be a viable option.

Vineet Bharadwaj of the Department of Psychiatry at the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh, India, recently led a study to determine the efficacy and safety of ECT in a sample of individuals diagnosed with BPAD or depression. Using information from a 10-year study, Bharadwaj analyzed data from 67 clients with either depression or BPAD who had received ECT treatments. The study revealed that individuals with BPAD represented less than 20% of the clients that underwent ECT throughout the study period. The reasons for this could be due to the increased access to effective medication options and the increased criteria for ECT consideration.

Overall, Bharadwaj discovered that ECT resulted in a 50% response rate in clients with BPAD and those with depression. Additionally, approximately two-thirds of all the participants who received ECT went into remission. The results also showed a clear link with episode duration and remission. Specifically, the longer an episode persisted, the less likely the client was to respond well to ECT. Bharadwaj said, “This finding suggests that clinicians should not wait for too long to evaluate the efficacy of pharmacotherapy in bipolar depression, as it would reduce the chances of remission with ECT too.” One of the side effects of ECT is memory loss, but this was only realized in a minority of clients treated. Overall, the results of this recent study demonstrate that ECT is a viable and effective treatment option for some individuals with BPAD and depression.”

Bharadwaj, V., Grover, S., Chakrabarti, S., Avasthi, A., Kate, N. (2012). Clinical profile and outcome of bipolar disorder patients receiving electroconvulsive therapy: A study from North India. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 54.1, 41-47.

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • sadie


    May 9th, 2012 at 4:06 AM

    I have a good friend and her dad is a psychiatrist, and his specialization area was always ECT. When I was old enough to talk to him about what he did, of course as a teen I thought it was horrid, ounishment and not a treatment. But as I have gotten a little older and have considered psychiatry as a field that I amy wish to consider, I have done some reading on the subject and it is pretty amazing how much many patients respond in a positive way to ECT. It is not cruel, but it works wonder with the treatment of many mentally ill patients. I am happy to know that it is no longer being villified, but is being recognized for the good that it can do.

  • Myron barnes

    Myron barnes

    May 9th, 2012 at 1:13 PM

    No matter how much I read that tells me otherwise, this treatment just seems a little primitive and dated. I see this and think, what’s next? You guys telling me that lobotomies are for the greater good too?

  • Anthony


    May 10th, 2012 at 4:20 AM

    I think that when it comes to something like electroconvulsive shock therapy, you really do need to keep an open mind about it. I don’t think that there was ever a time when it was necessarily dangerous, but I know that it did get a bad rap and maybe was not administered for either the right reasons or in the best situations. But I think that today things are pretty different, doctors and patients both are more informed than they ever have been and are able to make the choices that will be the most beneficial for them. It may work in some cases and not in others, but when there is educated consent and both parties are working together, I think that the research shows that there can be a lot of positive benefit to adding this to one’s therapy.

  • cate


    May 10th, 2012 at 10:47 AM

    i am a newly minted psychologist and have many ect unilateral as i understand it to be? is it safe for clients who have “metal” in their bodies, such as screws from spinal fusions? what is the protocal on an outpatient basis to sustain remission. if a person lives alone, & there is transient memory impairment or other, is this safe/possible to do. my client “has” all of the above, is bipolar I and treatment resistant on multiple medication combinations over 16 years.
    thank you for any responses.

  • noone


    May 12th, 2012 at 12:52 AM

    no treatment can be PERFECT and if one seems better than another for a particular set of people then tat should be and when newer and better techniques come they should be tested and adopted.I wonder why there is so much trouble coming to a consensus on the treatment of most disorders.

  • John


    May 12th, 2012 at 4:24 AM

    Are we saying that ect carries with it fewer side effects and possibly better overall results in terms of treatment and recovery than does medication? I think that if this information were to be spread more widely and advocated by mental health care professionals, then you could possibly see a resurgence in this sort of treatment, especially if there are patients who would be willing to give their personal testimonials and tell others about the benefits that if has given to them.

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Title   Content   Author is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptom or medical condition. Never disregard professional psychological or medical advice nor delay in seeking professional advice or treatment because of something you have read on