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  • Writer's pictureTom Robinson

Why I'm relieved to have avoided the risks of ECT and how I recovered from TRD through painless rTMS

Updated: Apr 24, 2021

There was an article on the BBC News page yesterday that discussed the results of a medical investigation into the use of electroconvulsive therapy.

The report found that one NHS trust used ECT three times more than the national average, which made me want to, once again share my own experience in order to educate and enlighten others.

Electroconvulsive therapy is a medical procedure most commonly used to treat patients with severe major depression or bipolar disorder that has not responded to other treatments.

The article on the BBC News page terrified me because it made me (yet again), question the decision making process and treatment plans that severely mentally ill patients are subjected to by NHS psychiatrists.

In the BBC News article Dr Chris Harrop says that if ECT treatment at the Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership had been carried out following evidence-based medicine, the rates of ECT use would not be three times the national average. He explains that he's 'surprised' by the discrepancy between trusts saying -

"we suspect it's more to do with clinician's whims more than the science behind it".

This is such an important area to focus on because severely mentally ill patients (sometimes with combined learning difficulties), have complete faith in what they are told by a doctor, and they are not given full informed consent before they undergo treatment by ECT and other medical interventions.

I mentioned informed consent last week, and there is a wonderful video with psychiatrist Dr David Cohen on the home page who states that the patient needs to be given information (in a language they can understand) about how this treatment is going to help them, and how it is going to harm them. The patient must also be informed of the options to whatever treatment is being suggested if they decide that it's not for them.

This hardly EVER happens and the patient blindly goes along with the consultant's decision because they think they have no choice in the matter which isn't true.

During my last admission (after the ketamine induced mania fiasco), I met a young boy who can only have been about 18 who was undergoing ECT for an undiagnosed mental health condition (the irony in what I've just written doesn't escape me to this day). He told me that he was 'Terrified of ECT' and that he didn't want to continue the treatment because he hated it and didn't think it was helping him.

I asked him what other options had been explained to him to which he replied 'What do you mean?', so I explained informed consent and that he could have some influence over his own treatment plan.

Unfortunately, if you are under section you sometimes don't have a choice about what treatment you're given (that's why I was bulldozed twice and this young guy was forcibly given ECT), but you can get a lawyer to fight for you which is what he did.

The thought of having ECT always terrified me because I knew the risk of memory loss, and to be honest having an induced seizure wasn't the most appetising of side effects, but after my 'ketamine infusions disaster', it was discussed as a treatment for my (now much worsened) resistant depression.

I knew that my depression was not survivable and that I needed immediate medical intervention, but after all the side effects and disasters with not only ketamine, but every other psychiatric medication, I was now terrified of another medically induced catastrophe.

I was so determined to beat depression and survive that I would have undergone any treatment or intervention in order to alleviate the horrors of the illness and spare my family the grief and pain of losing me to suicide.

Unfortunately, I was now running out of options which was not helping my worry and desperation, but although ECT had been recommended to me by a previous psychiatrist, the procedure was now deemed too risky for me because of the danger of manic relapse.

I was discharged from the care of that psychiatrist without ANY advice or suggestions as to what to do next!

The desperation and sense of hopelessness was now horrific and I only survived because I was DETERMINED to find an alternative treatment, and that's when a friend (thank GOD for her), suggested I see Dr Andy Zamar and be treated with rTMS which is 'repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation'.

I tried (and failed miserably) to get rTMS on the NHS - I was told that there wasn't one in my area, so I had no choice but to spend £2,000 a week on private treatment.

Thankfully I had parents who could help pay for the whole thing, and of course now we don't regret a single penny because I am in FULL REMISSION from depression, mixed state and type 1 bipolar disorder!!!

I will go into more details about rTMS and how it works in a future post, but this treatment is not only a painless and effective way of treating depression, but it doesn't carry any of the risks of memory loss and seizure either.

The other thing to note is that rTMS is far cheaper to administer than ECT - but why isn't there one in my NHS trust then?! There are only about three rTMS facilities on the NHS IN TOTAL and patients are not even being informed of its existence. OH DEAR another massive oversight.

So ONCE AGAIN I will be sharing my own experience in order to educate and enlighten others through articles like this one, and in the media and press, as well as in my book which I am still seeking representation for.

To prove that I am not just going to sit behind a computer professing ideas and making comments - as soon as I have finished documenting my story, I will be fundraising to buy an rTMS machine (£38,000) and getting it installed at my local psychiatric hospital in Oxford!

That has taken quite something to write this morning but I hope people will see the significance of my posts and share them to others!

If you would like to read the article from the BBC News page then you can find it here.

Thanks for reading,

Speak to you soon


Having the rTMS that saved my life at The London Psychiatry Centre in 2019

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