For individuals suffering from severe depression and other severe mental health problems, St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital (STEGH) is now offering Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) as a treatment option in the community. What used to involve multiple trips to London is now much easier and accessible.

ECT is a procedure done under general anesthesia where small electric currents are passed through the skull to trigger a brief seizure. Because of the anesthetic and muscle relaxant, the patient remains relaxed and unaware of the seizure. ECT changes the chemistry in the brain and, in many cases, can quickly reverse symptoms of mental health conditions, such as severe depression.

ECT has come a long way since the early treatments in which high doses of electricity were administered without anesthesia. “ECT is a very safe option for certain mental health conditions, especially when medication isn’t tolerated or other treatments haven’t been successful,” says Dr. Giuseppe Guaiana, Department Chief of Psychiatry at STEGH. “The electric currents are delivered in a controlled setting, which allows for the greatest benefit and the fewest risks.” 

Typically, a total of six to 12 treatments are required, depending on the severity of symptoms. The procedure itself takes five to 10 minutes, with added time for preparation and recovery. ECT can be done while hospitalized or as an outpatient procedure.

It is estimated that offering the treatment at STEGH will reduce wait times for residents of St. Thomas and Elgin County from two weeks to four days. The reduction in travel time will save patients (on average) 36 hours over the course of their treatment plan.

Following an initial consultation with their family doctor, individuals who may be candidates for ECT need a referral to speak with a psychiatrist.