Using ECT as treatment for depression

During Maasai Angel’s fight with Deep Thinker, she uses the “magnetic wheel of death” to “coax” him (so to speak) into revealing information on The Entity. This moment in the comic book world coincides with her time in a medical facility in the real world (BSHMM, p67). It is possible the buzzing mirrors a treatment for severe major depression known as ECT.

via getty images

In cases of severe depression, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) can be used as a treatment. While under general anesthesia, small electrical currents are passed through the patient’s brain to trigger a brief seizure. This stimulation can cause changes in the brain’s chemistry which seem to reverse symptoms of certain mental illnesses.

Past use of the treatment resulted in stigmatization; high doses of electricity administered to the brain by untrained personnel resulted in severe side effects such as memory loss and fractured bones. Today, under much safer protocols and the supervision of trained professionals, ECT is a proven, effective treatment, particularly when others do not work. It is also used as a rapid treatment for patients in an acute condition or at risk of harm, such as suicide. It is not a cure and many patients require subsequent maintenance treatment, usually via psychotherapy and/or medication; sometimes, additional courses of ECT are needed.

The procedure is recognized as effective treatment for mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association, the National Institute of Mental Health, and similar organizations in Canada, Great Britain and many other countries.

From the Mayo Clinic:

“Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) can provide rapid, significant improvements in severe symptoms of several mental health conditions. ECT is used to treat:

  • Severe depression, particularly when accompanied by detachment from reality (psychosis), a desire to commit suicide or refusal to eat.
  • Treatment-resistant depression, a severe depression that doesn’t improve with medications or other treatments.
  • Severe mania, a state of intense euphoria, agitation or hyperactivity that occurs as part of bipolar disorder. Other signs of mania include impaired decision-making, impulsive or risky behavior, substance abuse, and psychosis.
  • Catatonia, characterized by lack of movement, fast or strange movements, lack of speech, and other symptoms. It’s associated with schizophrenia and certain other psychiatric disorders. In some cases, catatonia is caused by a medical illness.
  • Agitation and aggression in people with dementia, which can be difficult to treat and negatively affect quality of life.”

From the American Psychiatric Association:

“Extensive research has found ECT to be highly effective for the relief of major depression. Clinical evidence indicates that for individuals with uncomplicated, but severe major depression, ECT will produce substantial improvement in approximately 80 percent of patients. It is also used for other severe mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. ECT is sometimes used in treating individuals with catatonia, a condition in which a person can become increasingly agitated and unresponsive. A person with catatonia can seriously injure themselves or develop severe dehydration from not eating or drinking.”

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