When antidepressants don’t work

Northwest Indiana Times
Feb 3 2007

PORTAGE | Barbara Layton’s depression had become so severe she had only the energy to sit in a rocking chair all day and slowly rock back and forth.

The Hobart native and Portage resident had suffered from depression since she was a teen. At age 21, she attempted suicide. But it wasn’t until she reached 40 that she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Like most with the illnesses, she’d been treated with a cocktail of antidepressants. This time, however, they weren’t working.

Suicide again crossed her mind, but she didn’t have the energy to carry out the thought, Layton said.

Instead, after consulting with doctors and educating herself and family members, Layton agreed to undergo electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT, more commonly known as electro shock treatments.

After six treatments, Layton’s depression had eased sufficiently that she was released from the hospital and returned to her normal life. That was in 1998.

“It scared me to death,” she said of her initial reaction to the recommendation, but she knew she had to do something.

“It saved my life. It just saved my life, and it was quick,” said Layton, 57.

Layton, founder and executive director of the Porter County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, has been an advocate for the mentally ill for years.

She took it a step further last year by agreeing to be one of a dozen ECT patients portrayed in the book “Shock: The Healing Power of Electroconvulsive Therapy” by Kitty Dukakis, wife of former presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, and Larry Tye. She also was featured in the DVD documentary “Shock,” produced by AMS Production Group. Both are available through Amazon.com.

The reason she agreed to go public on a national level was to continue her efforts to educate people about mental illness, she said. The book, which predominately features Dukakis’ battle with depression and use of ECT, and the DVD both take a look at the pros and cons of ECT.

“I wanted to help fight the stigma. I wanted people to recognize me as me and not as my illness. I am Barbara Layton, not a bipolar,” she said. “I’ve always been vocal about mental illness. There is a lot of stigma attached.”

Layton said her efforts have been to teach others that mental illnesses like hers are not a person’s “fault” and that depression is not something someone can simply “get over.” According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression is the leading cause of disability for people ages 15 to 44.

ECT, while administered to 100,000 people annual in this country, is misunderstood, Layton said. The stigma behind the use of the treatments comes from the media, especially the portrayal of the therapy in films like “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Frances.” The procedures have changed in administering ECT and are depicted in the DVD.

“I’m very pleased with the video. It shows the pros and cons of ECT. If you’re contemplating this, it is a very good source,” she said, adding the video is objective and that stories are about successful and unsuccessful treatments.

“I want people to know it is safe. I want them to go into it (ECT) very educated and look at it long and hard. This is not for someone with a mild case of depression. It is for someone with a debilitating case who has gone through all the medications.”


The documentary “Shock” featuring Portage resident Barbara Layton is available at Amazon.com for $19.95. The book “Shock: The Healing Power of Electroconvulsive Therapy,” which also features Layton’s battle with depression and use of electro shock treatments, also is available at Amazon.com for $17.22.

Comments (38)

Jeff PerryFebruary 14th, 2007 at 2:59 pm

My wife and I are looking into the ECT treatment.
My wife has been depressed for years and yes she has had every med out there.
This is our last straw.
If you can give more insight it would help.
Plus, we live in Va. and have no clue who does this kinda work.

God Bless,
Jeff Perry

Amy DavidsonApril 12th, 2007 at 7:43 pm

Investigate things thoroughly first.

Members of my family have had repeated ECT’s for mental illness including depression and psychosis.

It turns out 20 years later and after some of my relations can no longer wipe their ass unassisted that we have a type of brain tumor that runs in our family…

We were never schitzophrenic or anything like that, just bunged up with strange growths pushing on our brains.

Often their is a reason for mental illness that is outside of the ‘psyche’.

Sue RussellJune 15th, 2007 at 12:07 am

My husband has severe dilibilitating depression an anxiety. He is currently in an inpatient mental health facility and we have no end in sight He’s taking every anti depressent, anti psychotic, stimulant, sleeping medication known and a few not known.
Could ECT be the answer we are so desperately seeking and does anyone in Washington state perform the procedure?

xxAugust 30th, 2007 at 3:27 pm

I have a form of Schizo-affective disorder and suffer from recurrent depressive episodes. I have tried many of the newer anti-depressants with only severe side effects to show for it. The depressions fall usually two to three weeks apart and last anywhere from two to three days. I get so depressed that I cannot function; I have no desire to go on. Then as quickly as it came on, it subsides.
I was wondering if this type of depression(which gnaws at me and drives me crazy) is a good candidate for ECT.

Sue RussellSeptember 9th, 2007 at 7:37 pm

I had forgotten I put this posting out in June of this year. My husband has now completed 12 treatments of ECT and it has changed our lives. He is back amoungst the living again and this week, returned to work. He’s been off work since May.

Booster treatments remain the question mark as everyone is different but what I can tell anyone who is trying to make the decision for themselves or their loved ones, its the best decision we’ve ever made.
Reclaim your life.

TinaDecember 29th, 2007 at 8:58 pm

I have “Mixed State Bipolar” and my Psychiatrist has recommended that I get ECT treatment. It’s been 6 years since I’ve been dianosed and during that time I’ve tried about every medication mixture out there. I still continue to have mania and depression. I’ve gained 100 lbs through no motivation brought on by depression. When I’m manic I’m sweating, hyper, and full of anxiety and the following day I am exhausted from it. Around Holidays and special occasions it’s the worst. I’m married with two small children 6 and 8 and I’m afraid of waking up from an ECT and not recognizing them. My memory isn’t good anyway and I’ve heard that you lose part of your memory that doesn’t come back. I just want to know if this is my only alternative or is there that magic pill for me.

xxDecember 30th, 2007 at 12:45 am

Since I last wrote in, I have been put on Effexor, an antidepressant. I have also gone through NAMI’s (National Alliance on Mental Illness) In Our Own Voice Training, an Anti-Stigma Presentation to train people how to speak out in public settings. We are trained to give panel discussions on fighting stigma surrounding Mental Illness. I also recently gained trust and faith in the Lord, God and feel 100% better. There’s hope!!!

Kathy BentonFebruary 12th, 2008 at 1:52 pm

I am currently receiving maintenance ECT and it has worked wonders for me. This summer I suffered an acute depressive episode that was not responsive to medication. I had ECT 2 years ago during another acute depressive episode and it was very effective. This round of ECT when I was in the hospital was very effective also, but I have needed the maintenance ECT to keep things going. I work and carry on a regular life. I have had some short term memory issues, but those have cleared up.

kellyFebruary 16th, 2008 at 1:29 pm

After my first ECT i felt wonderful (i had been in a suicidal depression). After 8 treatments i lost the majority of my memory of the previous 3-4 months,it’s very fightening and I’d never have another treatment,just my opinion. It scares me tio think how much more memory one more treatment may have taken away. The memory loss came on suddenly and I stopped treatment and went back on meds,so far I’m doing fine.

johnFebruary 27th, 2008 at 9:51 am


I am meeting with and ECT soecialists DR 2/27/08 to discuss ect treatment for me. i have been on all classes and levels of antidepressents anti anxiety mood stabilizers etc. I am now on level for tratment MAOI. Did anyone have sug. questions exp. Seems i have read alot that the anesthesiologists plays a big part in the aftereffects e.g. cognitive dysfunction, memory loss …. is your exp. with uni or bilateral ect, treatment was taper ect over few weeks with no drug treatment or starting med treatment during ect followed by post doe of lithium. Would you do it agaimn. my fear is this – the trigger for my “other e\affected disorder ” was divorce where ex cheated betrayed moved out of state and is know trying to turn my 2 daughters away from me . This will not go away – these are tangible my youngest is only 10 years old i have been unable to focus, have depression anger swings, cant hold job after 20 years of funcioning at very high level. Any help?

Cathy PepperMarch 6th, 2008 at 6:04 am

I have had ECT 8 times in 8 years,it saved my life although I have had quite a bit of memory loss.

Cathy PepperMarch 6th, 2008 at 6:05 am

ECT saved my life-quite a bit of memory loss though.

Victoria LeeApril 21st, 2008 at 3:52 pm

My mother was given 10 sessions of ECT.

10 weeks after the treatment she committed suicide.

It seems like a straightforward solution but ECT is complex and can tear a family apart.

Do all the research and more before agreeing to a treatment where one in six will die.

xxApril 21st, 2008 at 11:00 pm

Since writing my last blog on this site, my doctor found the anti-depressant Effexor on the second try(close to 3 months total experimentation time). It is working wonderfully for 7+ months. I haven’t had much thought about ECT in that time and have not been severely depressed at all.

JenniferJune 17th, 2008 at 7:49 pm

I’ve had 14 shock treatments. After about 6-7, I began to feel better. Now, I feel practically normal.

ECT saved my life.

It’s barely affected my memory whatsoever. I tried almost every drug known to mankind. They were equally useless: a complete waste of $1,000.00/month.

Now I’ll be on manintenance ECT for the rest of my life.

Sue RussellJuly 3rd, 2008 at 9:04 pm

This week marks the one year anniversary that my husband started ECT treatment. He is back to the person that I knew. There has been no memory loss other than during the initial intensive phase of treatment. Lucky him, I wouldn’t want to remember what got me there in the first place either.
For us this was our last chance and again the best decision we’ve ever made.
We were contacted by a reporter who is doing an article for MSNBC about ECT that is supposed to be published in mid-July. She conducted an interview with both of us, hopefully the information we provided will help those who struggle with mental illness everyday.

Reclaim your live, you’ll be glad you did.

Benadette EnrightSeptember 10th, 2008 at 7:04 am

My psychiatrist has suggested maintenance ect, but I am afraid of having so much of it. I live in Ireland and dont have any help here regarding ect. Will my memory be affected long term if I have this every six weeks? It has saved my life in the past and works better than medication.

lisaSeptember 17th, 2008 at 6:33 am

Wondering if someone can help answer my question(s)? I have undergone 8-9 ECT treatments and although I feel great the day of the treatments, the depression seems to return the next day. Is there a minimum amount of treatment (ect) one needs before it sticks? I still have 3 booked and my doctor has said we will determine if more are needed after this.

JenniferSeptember 17th, 2008 at 6:51 pm

ECT does NOT kill 1/6.

ECT’s saved my life. I’ve had 31 so far, and currently have one a week.

KatrinaOctober 28th, 2008 at 7:20 am

ECT improved my depression tremendously after suffering from major depression for many years. Too bad the doctor chose to put me on desipramine near the end of my treatments so I’d have an anti-depressant in my system and could hopefully put off having maintenance treatments. The desipramine completely defeated the purpose of having ECT in the first place.
I’ve experienced some minor memory loss, but its little things, like have I read that book or seen that movie, not who are my friends or what are my the names of my family members.

ReggieApril 1st, 2009 at 10:10 am

My husband has been doing ECT’s for a little over a year I think it was the best decission he ever made. He still has to have them once a month but so what. It works! He has OCD, and Bipolar. He was a very unhappy person, he tried to commet suicide about 5 times,luckily without success. He is now on less med’s than he has ever been. He has very little memory loss, the only memory he has lost was the bad things he did. (The suicide attempts and the way he felt before he had ECT’s) other than that his memory is just fine. ECT’s will change your life..but for the better

Daphne DavisApril 6th, 2009 at 5:27 am


I am currently making a documentary about ECT, with the goal of showing both the pros and cons to ECT. And how it has changed today and is becoming used more and more, for it’s success. If you would be willing to be interviewed, or would just like to put in your input, let me know.

Thank you,

Aileen MakridisMay 24th, 2009 at 6:48 am

I am located in Australia but this is a worldwide illness. Thank God for the Internet – I would not have known where to get information and support about ECT. My husband has started ECT treatments, completed his 2nd. Although he appears to me to be more talkative and alert, I have never seen him more bleak about the future. His racing thoughts on one day were worse – we did not know this was possible. He is at a private hospital but I am surprised at how little information is given to carers like myself who know nothing about the complexities of having a loved one who has been admitted as a last resort. My husband has Mixed Episode Bipolar, tried every medication,tried to commit suicide, how much more can I remain positive? My guts churn when I know, like all carers, that if ECT does not improve his mania and depression, where will he go from here? I can only see him attempt it again. I hope that I am wrong and that ECT does make a difference.

MichelleJuly 13th, 2009 at 12:06 pm

I just completed 6 treatments of ECT in North Carolina. I’m afraid that dispite the relief from major depression (something I have never experienced) I now have the difficult problem of having lost memory, which is a frightening thing to experience. I don’t know how long this relief from depression will last, but the memory thing is devastating.

LindaJuly 19th, 2009 at 9:54 pm

I am considering ECT as i am finding the meds i am on are not working..my doctor just wants to up my meds..I am at the point where when i take mt meds that i will have a severe panic/anxiety attack where do i find out who does ECT I am from Ontario Canada

jenny schmitzAugust 23rd, 2009 at 6:56 pm

ECTs are a confusing business. I had a neighbor ask me about them. I had an awfull expierience with them. I felt like screaming, “hell no, don’t ever get electrocuted.” (I can’t spell) But, instead I said, ” make sure your sister takes every medicine she can. If that does not help, try to get her into a week, month, … program to try and help her.” And if all of that doesn’t work, AS A LAST RESORT have ects. Ects have played a large part in making my life miserable. But, were ects given to me as a last option, I would have welcomed it.

JudySeptember 19th, 2009 at 2:08 am

I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and depression. I was taking quite a lot of medication, but it was not until I began ECT treatments that I finally was able to get relief from these illnesses. During the last few years, I have had more than 60 treatments. When I have started to get very depressed, they start by giving me an ECT “series”, which begins with 3 treatments a week, and then gradually works down to once a month for “maintenance”. Unfortunately, I have had some memory loss, but to me it’s definitely more worthwhile to feel better and be able to function in my everyday life. I would definitely recommend ECT to anyone who might be considering it.

JulieDecember 20th, 2009 at 10:29 am

My husband has had 5 ECT treatments and still nothing. He is no better. This is very frustrating for the family. They keep telling me to be patient. He is 64 years old, was never depressed in his life and he is so self absorbed about nonsense. Every week when he has a treatment I keep hoping he will be better. Does anyone have any thoughts on this? How long does it take?

Pamela BerrethJanuary 26th, 2010 at 12:11 am

Julie, my counselor just started talking to me about ECT. He related a documentary he watched. For one girl, it took more than usual.I don’t recall exactly, around 12-16. She was a twin whose twin had no depression problems so it was an interesting parallel study. For her, the results were great.

Pamela BerrethJanuary 26th, 2010 at 12:24 am

Eileen Makridis,
How is your husband?
This may not apply anymore, but may be helpful for someone – for racing thoughts, Seroquel works great. I wouldn’t be able to sleep without it.

Linda HalliwellFebruary 2nd, 2010 at 8:22 pm

I am thinking about asking my dr for ECT as i am finding the meds i am on are not working for me ..i have been on so many my dr is telling me there really is nothing left to try..can anyone tell me does ect work just for depression or will it also help with my bi-polar..and my panic attacks which about 10 plus a day..also Pamela i too am on seroquel and found it worked for a bit i now suffer severe muscle joint pain from taking it did you have this problem or has anyone had this problem…thanks so much

KathyFebruary 22nd, 2010 at 5:16 pm

My husband has had 7 treatments. I think I see improvements, but he still seems so hopeless. He says he’s afraid that the treatments aren’t working. I’m pretty scared about the whole thing. What happens if it doesn’t work??

DJKFebruary 24th, 2010 at 10:54 am

I was diagnosed with severe depression in October of 2009, only after I had a bad reaction to an increase in Prozac by my GP. He doubled my dosage and I went into a full-blown panic attack/anxiety attack. I went to an ER and they put me on ativan and called in the psych department. They convinced my wife and I to sign me into their ward. I was placed on so many anti-depressants and anti-psycotics and sleeping meds that I cried everyday and all day. within 10 days , they convinced me to undergo ECT. How they did it without talking to my wife, informed consent, or anything – I dont know why. I know this to be true because I have pulled all my medical records from the hospital. I have cognitive disorders, severe memory (recent past and long time) problems and depression since my hospital stay. I underwent 5 treatments in 10 days in the hospital. My stay in the hospital was for 28 days. I NEVER had any depression or mental illness in the past or was treated for anything. I feel that I was deactivated by drugs and ECT treatments and I am beginning to put my case together for litigation. EVERYONE- beware of ECT and the countless drugs that these doctors put you on/off without considering the side effects or withdrawls. Beware of people who promote ECT- they are doing it with the intent to justify electrocution and brain-torture/damage. Find some one to talk to. Remember- there is NO efficacy for ECT. If you do not believe me – LOOK IT UP.

DougJune 11th, 2010 at 8:05 pm

I have tried almost every anti depressant over the last 15 years. My depression and self medicating ended my marriage of 18 years. I am now 49 and I have my 11 yr. old son and 14 yr. old daughter most of the time. I am about at my last straw. I haven’t been able to hold down a job for quite a few years. My psychiatrist tells me that I am only “moderately” depressed. I sleep an extrordinarily large amount of the day. I feel like it would be much easier to be dead, but I could NEVER do that to my chidlren/family. I read some truly remarkable stories here, and then some horror stories. This is very confusing. I live in a small town in eastern Washington state and the closest area to me that does ECT is 2-1/2 hours away. Besides, I don’t think my insurance will pay for it. Has anyone here had to pay for their treatments out of pocket? If so, how much was it? Any advice, information or HOPE would be very much appreciated.

KathyJune 11th, 2010 at 8:15 pm

Well, an update. My husband completed 10 treatments. After number 10 he was scheduled for another, but the experience of number 10 was SO upsetting for him he refused to go back. We/he has since started seeing a new doctor. Abilify did wonders for him, a few months ago. He is struggling some again now. We like the new doctor so much better. Just got to keep hope alive.

Doug- we did not pay for treatments out of pocket. I’m not sure how much they are. We also had to drive for treatments, not as far as you mentioned, but it was a hardship for us. Sorry I’m not more help.

Judy S.June 15th, 2010 at 2:02 am

Doug, I too don’t pay out-of-pocket, but I can give you an idea of how much my hospital charges my insurance company for my monthly ECT treatments. Doctor: $173; Anesthesia Services: $588; Hospital Misc.: $1,503, for a total of $2,264. This is for a very large hospital in the Southeast US.

Judy S.June 15th, 2010 at 2:34 pm

To clarify my comment above, this is for only one treatment. I have these maintenance treatments every four weeks, and they have proved to be very effective in treating my depression/bipolar condition.

God bless.

HENRYAugust 6th, 2010 at 4:43 pm


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