Addressing a ‘Shocking’ Issue
Source: The Northeastern News
Controversial shock therapy helps Kitty Dukakis cope with depression
About 100 people gathered at Raytheon Amphitheatre Monday to hear KittyDukakis share her experiences with the controversial depressiontreatment electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).
Dukakis, who recently co-wrote a book, “Shock: the Healing Power ofElectroconvulsive Therapy,” said she has suffered from mental illnessand depression since 1982, which led her to develop drug and alcoholproblems. According to the Department of Psychiatry at MassachusettsGeneral Hospital, ECT is a treatment in which the brain is stimulatedby a small amount of electrical current, which produces a seizure thataffects the centers of the brain that control mood, appetite and sleep.
“I was a very different human being [before the treatment] than the oneyou see today,” Dukakis said, while accompanied by husband MichaelDukakis, a distinguished political science professor and formerthree-time Massachusetts governor, and co-author Larry Tye.
While the Dukakises are confident in the benefits of ECT, other ECT patients think it’s terrible.
“I wouldn’t argue with anyone else who already was subjected to it, butI would go to the ends of the earth to prevent someone else fromgetting it,” said Dorothy Dundas, a woman in her mid-60s who underwentmany ECT treatments at the age of 19.
Dundas is part of MindFreedom International, a non-profit organizationthat works to show alternatives for people labeled with psychiatricdisabilities, according to its website. Members of MindFreedom areupset that Kitty’s book does little to show the negative aspects ofECT, despite efforts to get some of the aspects included.
“What we got was one or two sentences [in the book],” said David Oaks,director of MindFreedom International. “There are a string ofcelebrities that feel they were helped by shock therapy and they comeout and sing its praises, but the public is not hearing the other book.The book that should be written ought to tell the nightmare scenario[of ECT].”
While Dundas described her ECT experience as a nightmare that led tomemory lapses, Kitty said her depression before the treatment was thereal nightmare.
“It’s hard to describe what happens when someone who you love dearly… for reasons that nobody can explain … would experience such severedepression,” Michael said. “These depressions were brutal … everynine or 10 months she would start feeling crummy.
Kitty argued with her husband, saying “crummy” is the word that woulddescribe the hotel he took her to in Paris just before she started ECT,not an accurate description of her depressions.
Kitty’s doctor recommended ECT after 19 years of debilitating depression, she said.
“My depression comes back every nine or 10 months,” Kitty said. “I callmy doctor when those signs come, and I am in the hospital.”
Kitty said her ECT treatment is an outpatient procedure, and shereceives six treatments during the period of a few weeks each time herdepression returns.
Larry Tye, co-author of the book, described going to Mass GeneralHospital with Kitty to observe her treatments. He said she wasanesthetized and took a muscle relaxant, and that the treatment wasbrief. Unlike the violent convulsions depicted in “One Flew Over TheCuckoo’s Nest,” a movie where the main character undergoes ECTtreatment, the only motion Tye saw in Kitty was some wiggling in herlittle toe.
Still, Oaks said MindFreedom is concerned with the intrusive nature of the controversial procedure.
“If someone says you are a danger to yourself or others, you don’t havea say in the treatment,” said Judene Shelly, a member of MindFreedomwho attended the event.
Kitty, however, disputed this.
“I have not met anybody in the past 13 months … who had involuntary ECT,” Kitty said.
Oaks said MindFreedom is also concerned about the side effects of the procedure.
“People are not warned about the hazards … it’s heartbreaking to talkto people who have lost memories of marriage or the birth of theirchildren,” he said.
Tye and the Dukakises admit this risk.
“[Sometimes] those memories come back, often they don’t come back. The question is if it is worth the trade off,” Tye said.
Kitty said she had some memory loss after treatment.
Oaks said some people with depression may risk the trade off, thinking they have few options.
“There’s a fear factor that there is no alternative when, actually,with depression, there’s quite a range of alternatives,” he said.”Maybe a particular counselor is not good but there are superbcounselors that never use shock therapy.”
Gloria Gervais from the Maine alliance of MindFreedom came to the event to publicize the concerns of MindFreedom constituents.
During the Q&A part of the event, Gervais asked Kitty about her attempts to treat depression before trying ECT.
“I did try medication, I did try yoga, I did try other therapies. Yes, I did,” Kitty said.
Kitty also touched on a different controversial element of ECT: thefact that there is little information on how it actually works. Kittysaid this is partly because ECT equipment is produced by two smallcompanies who cannot afford to study it.
Regardless, the Dukakises said the treatment is the right decision forthem. Holding back tears, Michael said, “I have my wife back.”
After the event, Kitty Dukakis told The News that college studentssuffering from depression would have to consider whether ECT treatmentwould be right for them.
“Depression stops many [college students] from dealing with theirwork,” Kitty said. “They need to weigh the memory issues very carefullywhen considering treatment options.”
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