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Sarnia hospital now offering updated electro-shock therapy

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Pam Wright

Electroconvulsive therapy is now available at Bluewater Health.

For people who suffer from severe illness that resists treatment, such as mania and schizophrenia, “ECT can improve quality of life and is often lifesaving,” says Dr. Emmanuel Anyaegbuna, the hospital’s medical director of mental health and addiction services.

Until now Sarnia-Lambton residents had to travel to Chatham or London to undergo the procedure.

Anyaegbuna admits it carries a shadowy stigma.

Once referred to “shock therapy,” ECT has been transformed into a highly effective and painless procedure, he said.

“It’s come a long way and we are delighted to be able to offer it here.”

Shock treatment began in the 1930’s and was often abused or used as a punishment, Anyaegbuna said, as evidenced by its use in Nazi Germany.

Its depiction in the film ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest helped cement the negative associations.

“It did get a bad reputation,” he said, noting patients were forced to undergo ECT against their will with no anesthetic, experiencing pain and burning.

“It’s unfortunate, because it is lifesaving in many cases,” he said.

Using electricity in medicine is routine in other areas, such as cardiac arrest. Defibrillators — now common in public places — restart the heart by shocking it, Anyaegbuna noted.

“We consider that completely normal.”

Today’s ECT patients don’t feel a thing. They are under general anesthetic the entire procedure, which lasts 4 to 5 minutes. The actual induced seizure lasts less than a minute. Patients then spend two hours in a recovery room where they are closely monitored.

Typically, patients have 6 to 12 sessions and can stop at any time.

Dr. Anyaegbuna cautioned ECT is not for everyone.

“It’s not a first line of treatment. This is for disorders that have not responded well to medications and other methods have been exhausted,” he said.

It can be effective for people trapped in hopeless suicidal thinking, who suffer from “delusions of guilt” and blame themselves irrationally for everything in life.

It’s especially helpful, he said, for people over 65 who are severely depressed, with an 80% to 90% success rate.

“It works rapidly and effectively.”

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 8% of Canadian adults experience major depression at some point in their lives.

Anyone experiencing a mental health crisis is advised to visit Bluewater Health’s emergency department or the Canadian Mental Health Association, at 210 Lochiel St.

“You don’t need a referral,” Dr. Anyaegbuna said. An assessment will be carried out and a plan of action will be organized.

“The earlier we can help, the better response we can see.”







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