ECT on ‘Law & Order’

A new episode of “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” was on tonight, and they decided to ‘show’ electroconvulsive therapy going on at a psychiatric hospital. (Here’s a recap).

And they’ve got  it totally wrong.

The scene takes place in a psychiatric hospital where the police psychiatrist goes to interview a staff psychiatrist about a person of interest. The ECT happens to be taking place right by where they are conversing (looks like an open hallway). They just show the patient’s body seize up for several seconds. In current practice, we’re given muscle relaxants so that shouldn’t happen. Also, the patient made some loud noise during the seizure. Now, I do know that doesn’t happen because I have been next to ECTs going on close to me, and I’ve never heard people making any sounds.

I know the TV people need to make scenes look ‘active,’ but would they exaggerate any other medical procedure? It looked like it hurt, and if I had seen that before my ECTs, I would’ve been reluctant to have decided to have the procecedure. It was creepy to watch that happen.

People may not notice this very minute portion, but I think “Law and Order: SVU” did a huge disservice to a treatment that already conjures up inaccurate images.

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7 Comments to “ECT on ‘Law & Order’”

  1. Hi again.

    Does the ECT associated memory loss only last for a few hours after the treatment?

    I don’t know what medication you are on/have been on (I read that you have been on many), but, with any of the drugs, did you notice they affected your memory?

    Lithium has basically pummeled my short term memory and I wonder if a) it will be restored when I come off of it or b) if I ever do ECT would it make it worse, etc

  2. Hi, Jon,
    Well, now that I’m only having maintenance ECT, the memory loss only lasts for a really short time after the treatment (and it’s never really been anything too important that I forget). But when I was having ECT every other day, I lost some ability to speak Japanese, which is my first language. It all came back, but that was quite interesting.

    I’ve had bunch of different side effects from various meds, but I honestly can’t recall any effects on memory. It might be because I just wasn’t paying attention. I’ll check back with my old journals to see if I ever wrote anything about it.

    There’s effect on memory from ECT partly because you’re under general anesthesia. If you do get off lithium, hope your memory functions return. I really think it’ll depend on the individual re: how ECT would affect his/her memory. It hasn’t been bad as I had read or been told, but maybe I was lucky. My psychiatrist was amazed that I didn’t really have any cognitive deficits after having 15 ECTs in 5 weeks.

  3. I have severe PTSD and bipolar and have tried every medication known to man to treat bipolar with no relief. I have been given the ok from my psychiatrist to proceed with ect treatment if I so choose to. I have been doing a lot of research and am so confused now whether or not to pursue this. I have been living in such a dark cloud for over five years now. My father committed suicide on my birthday five years ago to get back at me. He was a very cruel man. I carry the guilt of that every day on top of my diagnosed bipolar. I have attempted suicide too many times to count and have been hospitalized for treatment. Psychotherapy, counselling, meditating, exercising, medication, group therapy and nothing works. I feel empty, hopeless, alone, sad, and I want the pain to go away. Before starting this research on ECT I thought it was my last resort now I don’t know what to do. If anyone has a positive story from receiving ECT I would love to hear it. I have heard more negative than positive. One question that I have not seen answered is regarding memory loss is: if you do have severe memory loss after treatment does it get worse if you continue having ect treatments? Any advice or comments would be appreciated. Thank you.

  4. Hi Marie,

    I’ve been having ECT since April of this year. Started with 3 x week in-hospital, now down to 1 x 10 days as a out-patient. I have had NO memory loss of any kind and do feel the treatment, along with antidepressants and cognitive therapy, is working. As far as I know, my treatment is unilateral. I’ll check on that tomorrow.

    I’ve had severe depression since childhoodf and, after a while, all meds I tried stopped working after a while. I see this as my last shot and, so far, it’s working. Side effects? Yes, but as someone else on this list pointed out, they can and will give you medication in the anesthetic so you don’t wake up feeling like hell!Just ask for it!

    Good luck.

  5. Jennifer, thanks for the comment. So, did you get to find out what kind of ECT treatment you’ve been getting? I hope all goes well for you with the rest of your treatments.

    Take care, yumers

  6. This episode of SVU was incredibly disappointing. The portrayal of ECT was completely inaccurate and the dialogue about it was extremely misleading. It implied that the effectiveness of ECT as a treatment for depression was achieved through obliterating the patient’s memories of whatever events “led” to their depression. Memory loss is a side effect of ECT–not the mechanism of action. I received ECT for treatment of depression after trying several different antidepressant medicines. I believe I would have committed suicide if I had not received ECT. I was not depressed as a result of depressing circumstances. I was depressed because my brain wasn’t functioning properly because of a biological problem. This is a lifesaving treatment that, as you said, is already widely misunderstood. It is extremely frustrating that the information people outside the medical field are given is so disturbingly inaccurate. Because of portrayals like this, people who might benefit from this highly effective treatment will not receive it because they have been made afraid of it. This was only slightly less horrifying than the ECT scene in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

  7. The part that bothered me most was when the patient said she wanted ECT in order to fry the memory of rape out of her brain. ECT is a legitimate treatment for severe depression. It is not used to erase memories.

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