In some cases, severe symptoms of postnatal psychosis will persist despite the use of medication. If this is the case, or if the illness is particularly severe, a psychiatrist may recommend electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). This treatment is only used in a hospital setting under close monitoring. There’s lots of misinformation about ECT, so beyond blue have put together some information to help people make a decision about their own treatment, or that of a partner or loved one:
- ECT involves passing a carefully controlled electric current through the brain while the person is under sedation.
- Modern ECT is a safe procedure, which is used to treat the most severe forms of depression (including psychotic depression and postnatal psychosis) and severe manic symptoms, when the situation is thought to be life-threatening or after all other treatment options have failed. ECT can reduce severe depressive symptoms more effectively than other treatments.
- ECT is not a 'cure', but can be useful in the short term because it works more quickly than antidepressants or other medications.
- The main side-effect of ECT is memory loss, which usually resolves after a few weeks, but can last longer. People have varying degrees of memory problems after ECT, and different reactions to it. For some people, the benefits outweigh the side-effects, while others find the loss of memories very distressing.
- Due to its side-effects, ECT can be used only with the full understanding and consent of the person involved, if she is able to consent. Where people are not able to provide consent, their family and carers help the psychiatrist to make a decision in their best interests and in these instances, approval from the mental health authority is usually required.