A-Z

John Z

Age at interview: 63
Brief Outline: John was clinically depressed when he went into hospital 12 years ago, age 54. He had eight sessions of ECT that lifted him out of depression. He is diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder but now has less highs and lows and is on Lithium, which helps.
Background: John is a professional.

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John Z was clinically depressed, in his words “almost catatonic”, when he was admitted to hospital 12 years ago, aged 54. He said that there was no other treatment available to him because he was so depressed. He felt much improved after 8 sessions of ECT. However, he went ‘high’ after these sessions and went “off the scale”. He remembers this high being fun and felt like he could take on the world.

John was a voluntary patient when he had ECT. He remembers being told in detail what was going to happen during the procedure. He explains how he had an anesthetic and a muscle relaxant. John says that he took about 10 mins recovering after the treatment, had a tea and biscuit and then he was able to go off and have lunch. 

After the ECT treatment he felt high and didn’t know at the time he was bipolar. His wife spoke to the psychiatrist and relayed to him that he was spending a lot of money and had got into debt. John says that being high on bipolar is better than being on any drugs and that lows are terrible. Before having ECT he had never heard of the treatment, and feels that films such as ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ present a highly destructive view of what ECT is like. 

John says that people don’t know how ECT works, only that it does work for people who are depressed. He wants to put people straight about the effects of having ECT and feels there is nothing to fear about it. He says that ECT hasn’t affected his memory and his head hasn’t been ‘scrambled’. 

Now John takes lithium every day for bipolar (not depression) and has blood tests to monitor the effects of this medication. He feels that stress is strongly associated with his mental health and that his aunt also struggled with mental health issues.
 

John Z remembered step by step the process of having the ECT.

John Z remembered step by step the process of having the ECT.

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And you basically go down to the ECT suite, having not eaten or drunk in the morning because you’re going to have a light general anesthetic, and the, you just get onto the trolley in your normal clothes, make sure you’ve been to the loo, because they give you a muscle relaxant and in one of the sessions I had they forgot to remind me. But that’s what happens. That’s the worst thing that can happen.

Then the technician from the anesthetics department comes over, was there, and cannulates your arm for the anesthetic, for the light anesthetic, and the, and muscle relaxant. And then the anesthetist turns up and that’s the one that has to put the drugs in. So they just - that wonderful feeling of going off, where you feel as though you’re drunk and the world’s spinning round but you don’t feel sick. You know, if you’ve even been had a few too many drinks and the room goes round this is that lovely feeling without feeling sick. You go off and what they do is they induce a minor epileptic fit with small electric currents in your head, very minor, they’re micro, micro volts, and most of it is done by the houseman, the psychiatrist’s houseman, but under the supervision of the consultant psychiatrist who is there. 

And it takes about ten, twenty minutes, and then you find you wake up in the recovery section and they say that during the thing during the process of the epileptic fit, the only thing you notice in the patient is a slight twitching of the toes. They take your shoes off, so a slight twitching, that’s all you notice because in the past, before they used muscle relaxants, people would jump all over the place. That’s why you get that feeling of “One flew over the cuckoo’s nest”. And you don’t get any of that, and you don’t lose your memory and you wake up and you just wake up and go and have lunch. So you don’t, you’re not, you’re still about what ten minutes recovering, a cup of tea and biscuit and off to lunch. And that’s it.
 

John Z was catatonic when he had ECT and it was the only answer. Although he went “on a high” after the treatments he found it very effective and nothing like the film ‘One flew over the cuckoo’s nest’.

John Z was catatonic when he had ECT and it was the only answer. Although he went “on a high” after the treatments he found it very effective and nothing like the film ‘One flew over the cuckoo’s nest’.

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I was clinically depressed, almost catatonic when I went into hospital, about twelve years ago, and basically ECT was the only answer. And it provided the answer within eight sessions. I saw, out of the depression, but unknown to the psychiatrist at the time until my wife told them, I was bipolar and not a depressive. And therefore of course by coming out of the deep depression I shot into a high, which means I went off the scale. And it was good fun being high on bipolar is better than any drug I’m sure, because you just can take on the world. You’re very creative, you suffer fools not very gladly and you tell them so. And so basically that’s what happened.
And I can tell you the process of ECT is not at all frightening.

How much did you know about ECT before that?

I’d never heard of it.

So you’d never heard of ‘One flew over the cuckoo’s nest’ or?

I’d seen the film, but you didn’t always relate ‘One flew over the cuckoo’s nest which is highly destructive in my view in terms of mental health treatments these days because it’s informed a lot of, or misinformed a lot of people over the years about what ECT is. And I’ve heard terms such as its barbaric and all this sort of nonsense. Nothing like it. It’s like having a cataract operation.
 

Although John Z has had a good experience with his psychiatrist, he said some mental health professionals treat patients as ‘over there’, and see themselves as ‘the expert’.

Although John Z has had a good experience with his psychiatrist, he said some mental health professionals treat patients as ‘over there’, and see themselves as ‘the expert’.

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The psychiatrist explained it perfectly. If you ask them, they tell you. The trouble is with my view, this may have to be wiped off the tape, but some health, mental health professionals still treat patients as kind of “over there”. Not, we still, I mean the lived experience form I’m with you still get resistance from mental health professionals to ordinary people being involved. This sort of “I’m the expert”, you know, that sort of thing. But I didn’t find that with these psychiatrists.
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