ECT and memory / suicidal thoughts

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Q. I have been out of work on med leave for depression for several months. I attempted suicide, then about a month later checked myself into a hospital for feeling suicidal again, then checked myself out AMA the next day. Met with the on call Psychiatrist and have been working with him ever since. He recommended ECT treatments and got me into see an ECT Psychiatrist right away. Was hospitalized for a week during the beginning of the ECT, then hospitalized again at some point after that as the Doctor felt I could potentially harm myself. It has been almost 4 months since my last ECT treatment. (I stopped at I believe the 10th one as I awoke before the paralyzing medicine had worn off and I could not breath or indicate to the Dr’s that I couldn’t breath, and for some reason I was not being bagged at that moment. Needless to say, I was completely freaked out by that experience and have been unable to go back) I do not remember anything that went on before ECT at all going back at least a year, and it’s pretty spotty going back further. I also do not remember alot of what has happened after ECT, and am also having trouble with my short term memory. What is peculiar is that I remember little bits and pieces of my suicide attempt, and the instance where I could not breath during ECT, as well as a few little things about being in the hospital, but that’s it. I can’t remember things about my job that I have worked at for almost 24 years. I have to refer to driving directions every time I go to my Dr’s office (every two weeks for the past 4 months). Will this ever get better? I was originally told that memory comes back at about 3 months, but my memory loss seems more extensive then what was explained to me. I have not been back to see the ECT Dr, and neither my Psychiatrist or Psychologist have much experience, if any, with ECT.

I don’t know how I will be able to go back to work with my memory like it is now. Not to mention that the thought of going back to work – either my current job or a new job brings on so much anxiety that I start having thoughts of suicide. Is it common or at least not unusual for stressful things to bring about thoughts of suicide. Can suicide be a coping mechanism? Somehow that seems to diminish what I am feeling when I am feeling suicidal. I am truly afraid that I will eventually act on the impulse if the stress becomes to severe.

A. What you are describing is not uncommon. ECT remains controversial. Some practioners recommend it and some do not. No one can tell you if your memory will return or if it will remain impaired.

Please believe me that there are good therapists out there, people who can help you with talk therapy. Every case is different but you should remain hopeful that you can be helped, remember many, many people are helped everyday. The key is to find a good therapist. They are all not the same.

You should try 4-8 therapists and choose the on that you are the most comfortable with. There was a time that you weren’t suicidal. Telling you then that you might someday be suicidal would have seemed unthinkable to you then. Telling you now that you will someday not be suicidal might be just as hard to accept now but just as true. Let me know how you are doing.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 13 Nov 2005

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2005). ECT and memory / suicidal thoughts. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 11, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2005/11/13/ect-and-memory-suicidal-thoughts/