What is ECT?

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ECT is a treatment used for a small number of severe mental illnesses. It was originally developed in the 1930s and was used widely during the 1950s and 1960s for a variety of conditions. It is now clear that ECT should only be used in a smaller number of more serious conditions. ECT consists of passing an electrical current through the brain to produce an epileptic fit – hence the name, electro-convulsive.


The idea was developed from the observation that, in the days before there was any kind of effective medication, some people with depression or schizophrenia, and who also had epilepsy, seemed to feel better after having a fit. Research suggests that the effect is due to the fit rather than the electrical current.

Q. How often is it used? 

It is now used less often. But between 1982 and 2002 its use in Ghana has more than halved, possibly because of better psychological and drug treatments for depression. Unavailability of ECT and Anesthetic Equipment also contributed to the low patronage of the therapy within those periods.

Q. How does ECT work? 

It is believed that some psychiatric conditions were as a result of imbalances in the neurotransmitters and also lack of blood supply to the brain. Research has suggested that ECT causes a balance in the activities of the neurotransmitters and also improves blood supply to the brain. Research suggests that ECT can stimulate the growth of new blood vessels in certain areas of the brain and increase in blood circulation to the brain.

Q. Does ECT really work? 

Recent studies in Accra Psychiatric Hospital has revealed that about 90% of our patients who have successfully undergone ECT, responded positively to treatment, while 5% were unresponsive, and the remaining 5% had worse conditions.

ECT has been shown to have an extra positive effect in severe depression – it seems, in the short term, to be more helpful than medication.