Does electroshock therapy help with anxiety

Electro therapy : With the wave from the valley

Tina's way down, deep down, began in 1994. Tina S. sits in the Charité in Charlottenburg, Clinic for Psychiatry, Room 1121, and tells. “I worked at the Frohnau S-Bahn station, sold tickets, back then they were still sold by hand!” Until 1994. “In 1994 I was replaced by a machine.” Suddenly Tina was unemployed - something she just couldn't cope with . This feeling of being no longer needed, of being superfluous. Worthless.

When she pulled herself out of bed in the morning after a rather sleepless night, she didn't know what to do with the day ahead. The day stood before her like an insurmountable wall. Instead of looking for help, she did the opposite: broke off all social contacts. “Sinning me”, as she keeps saying, this woman who wears a gold chain with a cross on her neck. Her hair is short with gray streaks and her top is pink. She turns 66 this week.

Tina sits in the office of Malek Bajbouj (pronounced: Baschbusch), 35, psychiatrist, depression researcher, his specialty: stimulating the brain of depressed patients, in the truest sense of the word. The goal: to restore the chemical balance in the head that was disturbed by depression. To do this, the doctor uses various methods. One is electroconvulsive therapy, ECT.

“Horror scenarios wake up immediately with EKT,” says Bajbouj, speaking calmly, almost gently. Scenes from the movie “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest”, for example, in which Jack Nicholson plays a petty criminal who is brought to an institution. The methods there are brutal. The patients are immobilized with electric shocks or even lobotomies (surgical nerve cutting of the brain). "Today's ECT has nothing to do with these martial methods," says Bajbouj. "It's bad that there is this horror picture, because ECT is the most effective remedy for depression."

In fact, electroconvulsive therapy helped Tina too. "This therapy," she says, "saved my life."

Since her fateful year 1994, Tina was repeatedly ravaged by depression. “I was stuffed full of medication.” It didn't help. Eventually she ended up with Bajbouj in the Charité and decided on electroconvulsive therapy. "Anxiety? I thought it was a bit funny, "she says. "But no, I wasn't afraid."

Bajbouj shows the room where the ECT takes place. The electric shocks were once given to patients while they were fully conscious. The current was very high and the body had an epileptic seizure - some patients even broke their bones in the process.

Today the procedure takes place under a brief general anesthetic. “The patient doesn't notice anything,” says Bajbouj. The amperage is low. In addition, the muscles are paralyzed beforehand using medication so that twitching does not occur. Then the doctor places two small black plungers on the right side of the skull and a short current, no longer than eight seconds, flows through the right hemisphere.

After five minutes the patient is awake again. And although nobody knows what exactly is happening, the current works: around 80 percent of patients come out of their depths. One session is not enough, it usually takes just under a month with three treatments per week. Little by little, a new balance of messenger substances is established in the brain. Apparently the current activates the inhibitory control circuits in the brain in particular - but why this lifts the mood is a mystery to doctors too.

Tina has had a good ten ECT sessions. “It's amazing how well the therapy worked for her,” says Bajbouj. “When she came here, she had no energy, she was just lying in bed, she even had to be asked to brush her teeth. Now she's thinking about dancing again. "

Tina survived the ECT well. Although she also has a typical side effect: Her short-term memory has temporarily deteriorated. “It comes back, but it's a disadvantage of the therapy,” says Bajbouj. That is why he is constantly on the lookout for gentler and possibly even more effective methods.

One of them is transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Since you don't need an anesthetic for this, Bajbouj offers me a little trial session. He moves the stimulator, a kind of giant butterfly, to the left side of my head and presses a button. It's starting to tick. Tick ​​tick ... With every tick a magnetic beam shoots through my skull and activates my left frontal lobe.

In the case of depression, the brain is out of balance: the left frontal lobe is often “paralyzed”, the right overactive. This imbalance is accompanied by negative feelings. If you rebalance the activity of the hemispheres, the mood improves.

This is exactly what you try with magnetic stimulation: Depending on the frequency, the magnet can either stimulate or inhibit the brain. In depressed patients, one tries to breathe new life into the paralyzed left frontal lobe and to shut down the overexcited right frontal lobe. "Many patients like the treatment," says Bajbouj. "It is not expensive, it does not hurt, there are no side effects, but the effect is also small."

The doctor sees the future in a stimulation method that combines ECT and TMS: magnetic convulsion therapy, MCT. Bajbouj has the device in the corner of his office - it is one of four devices in the world. Looks like massive black headphones. It sends out magnetic beams that activate the left frontal lobe. As with TMS, only that the magnet is stronger. At the same time, the process is gentler than the ECT.

Tina's days in the clinic are numbered. She will be released this week. As she parted, she talks about a happy experience that she had today: “You know, when you are depressed, you don't just feel sad. You feel nothing at all, only emptiness. You can't laugh anymore. But also stop crying. Today my roommate told me she was released and would go home tomorrow. I cried. I cried for the first time in years. It was wonderful."

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