Julie Hersh presented to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Neurological Devices Panel examining the reclassification of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) devices on January 27, 2011. These are her remarks as published in the public record of the meeting.
Hi. I’m Julie Hersh, and I am an ECT patient, and I’m part of the silent majority of those who have greatly benefited from ECT.
In 2001, after nine months of debilitating clinical depression and three suicide attempts, I did ECT at the insistence of my psychiatrist and my husband. The results for me were miraculous. I can remember the day after my first treatment, opening up my journal and looking at the page and thinking, who is this person? I just felt so completely differently from the point that I wanted to die to suddenly my life became real again. I was able to return to my life as a mother of a five- and seven-year-old, an active volunteer in the community, and a wife almost immediately. I had some short-term memory issues the two weeks before and the two weeks after ECT, but within a few weeks after that, my short-term memory was completely recovered, and I function very well.
At the pleading of my psychiatrist not to in 2005, I went off medication, and I relapsed in 2007 again and got to the point where I had to do ECT again, and again, the results were very positive for me.
In the almost decade since my last suicide attempt, I have raised my children. They’re 14 and 16 years old. I’ve written a book. I’ve been president of the Dallas Children’s Theater, raised millions of dollars in fundraising for my community, and I’m on the board of the Dallas Theater Center and UT Southwestern Medical Board. Without ECT, I would be dead.
ECT is an assessment of risk. Not everyone should do ECT. It’s a very serious procedure, but for people like me, ECT is a risk worth taking. I would urge you to make this procedure available for more people. It saved my life. Thank you.
And since I have written this book and I have been speaking, the book was published in April, and I’ve done about 80 speaking engagements since then. I’ve helped two other people who are in a debilitated state of depression, one woman who seemed exactly as I did in 2001, and I encouraged her to see my psychiatrist.
I had never met this woman before. She was hidden in her room, afraid to talk to me, but I came to her house on her husband’s pleas. She finally talked to me, snuck out of the room and spoke to me for about an hour, and she said that that was the most she had talked to someone in over three months. She did ECT. I didn’t see her.
About six months later, a woman came up to me at the gym I work out in, and she said, “Julie, hi. How are you doing?” And I looked at her and I said, “I don’t think I know you.” And she said her name, and I realized then who it was. This was a person completely transformed, a person who was alive and invigorated about life. Six months earlier, she had told me that she was eyeing a bottle of pills. She wanted to take her life. She felt like she was useless and no good for the world even though she had two wonderful children and a husband who loved her dearly.
I have another example of a very good friend that I helped who was exceedingly depressed and had come under the impression that he had done some dramatically things wrong to his family which he hadn’t. His wife was very skeptical about ECT. She talked with me, read my book. He did ECT, and again he’s fully functional. I had coffee with him about a week ago, and he is reengaged and reinvigorated about life.
So, unfortunately, most of the people like me wouldn’t go through snow and sleet and bribe a taxi guy to get here today, but ECT is a fabulous tool, and again I really urge you not to restrict it from the people who get benefit from it. Thank you very much.