Katherine Kitty Dukakis on ECT
Katherine Kitty Dukakis 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.
My name is Katherine Kitty Dukakis, and I live in Brookline, Massachusetts, except during the months of January, February, and March when my husband and I live in the westward section of Los Angeles, and he teaches at the winter quarter at UCLA.
Nearly 30 years ago, in the early 1980s, I began experiencing recurring cycles of depression for no apparent reason. They would hit me every eight or nine months and last for some three or four months, and I could only describe them as being some of the most painful experiences I’ve ever had. I was treated with therapy, and it would seem to be one unending series of antidepressants after another. Nothing seemed to help, and each cycle produced a depression deeper and more painful than the last.
Finally, after some 17 years of this, Dr. John Matthews of the Massachusetts General Hospital suggested that my husband and I talk with the hospital’s ECT specialist, Dr. Charles Welch, about the advisability of undergoing a series of ECT treatments when I was next hit with another of these depressions.
My ECT treatments started 11 years ago, and I would usually have 5 or 6 treatments each time my depression returned. I am now and have for the past 11 months been on ECT maintenance and receive a treatment once a month under Dr. Welch’s supervision in Boston and Dr. Ruben Espinoza’s in Los Angeles.
It is not an exaggeration to say that I doubt very much that I would not be alive today without ECT. The treatment has been a miracle in my life and for my husband, our three children and their spouses, and our eight grandchildren. In fact, I feel so strongly about the importance of ECT as a treatment for severe depression and other mental and emotional illnesses that I have spoken to grand round meetings in hospitals in close to 30 states and coauthored with Larry Tye a book on the subject entitled Shock: The Healing Power of Electroconvulsive Therapy. It is a book that many doctors recommend that their patients read if they are considering ECT.
I have often been asked by physicians to speak individually to patients who are suffering from serious depression but are frightened by the prospect of the treatment. In fact, Larry and I wrote at the end of our preface in our book, “ECT is the only remedy in mainstream medicine that is expanding in use, receiving increased attention and research, and offering lifesaving hope to tens of thousands of people even as some of the public believe it is extinct.”
I have a real fear, as have so many of us who have been helped by ECT, that changes some groups are advocating will affect the very positive strides that many of us have made. What is really troubling for the thousands of us, who thanks to ECT are leading healthy and happy lives, is the possibility that ECT will not continue to be made readily available to us and to so many others who could be helped by it.