Tens of thousands of the desperately depressed sign up every year to have electricity-induced grand mal seizures even though nobody has ever figured out why the treatment works or how severe the associated brain damage is. The good news: You no longer have to be awake, and muscle relaxants now keep your bones from breaking.
Most people might be quicker to associate electroshock therapy with torture rather than healing. But since the 1980s, the practice has been quietly making a comeback. The number of patients undergoing electroconvulsive therapy, as it’s formally called, has tripled to 100,000 a year, according to the National Mental Health Association.
During an ECT treatment, doctors jolt the unconscious patient’s brain with an electrical charge, which triggers a grand mal seizure. It’s considered by many psychiatrists to be the most effective way to treat depression especially in patients who haven’t responded to antidepressants. One 2006 study at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in North Carolina found that ECT improved the quality of life for nearly 80 percent of patients.