Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) is a form of treatment that has the potential to be highly effective in treating severe symptoms of mental illness.

But it has proven to be a highly controversial form of treatment, with some going as far to say it is barbaric in nature. Others point to the fact that it isn’t entirely clear how ECT works as a point of concern.

Another concern is the risks involved with ECT, including both the short and long-term effects of the treatment, as we cover in this article.

While rare, ECT is still used in modern-day psychiatry; albeit as a last resort, only to be used when multiple other interventions have failed to result in an improvement in symptoms.

What is Electroconvulsive Therapy?

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT): Electroconvulsive Therapy (commonly referred to as shock treatment) is a treatment that sees an electric current sent through the brain of an individual. The aim is to trigger an epileptic seizure, with the ultimate objective to relieve symptoms of a mental health problem. The human body is fully restrained during the procedure, which also involves a general anaesthetic. Electroconvulsive therapy is normally a last resort. Despite this, ECT actually has an impressive efficacy rate, with many people finding it helps immeasurably.

Short-term effects of Electroconvulsive Therapy

Most side effects from ECT are short-term. These can be as a result of the anaesthesia administered, or in the aftermath of the actual ECT session – or both.

Typical short-term side effects of ECT include:

  • Drowsiness – especially following the anaesthetic
  • Grogginess – again, this effect is especially pronounced after the anaesthetic
  • Disorientation – normal to feel after the therapy
  • Confusion – something that is often felt after the therapy
  • Sedation – a feeling of tiredness is very normal, based on both the anaesthetic and the actual therapy
  • Nausea – feelings of sickness following ECT
  • Muscle aches – can be caused by either, or both, the anaesthetic or the actual therapy
  • Loss of appetite – a common feeling after any ECT session

Long-term effects of Electroconvulsive Therapy

Hopefully, there will be no long-term side effects of ECT for anyone that undergoes this form of therapy. But like with anything mental health related, long-term side effects are possible.

Typical long-term side effects of ECT include [1]:

  • Lack of motivation and loss of interest in everyday activities – a state of mind that is associated with several mental health conditions like depression.
  • Memory loss – a potential damaging effect, some people will find they have many gaps in their memory
  • Struggling to learn new information or take things on board – one of the most concerning possibilities is a person losing critical functions in their brain, such as not being able to process regular information
  • Relapse – unfortunately, a relapse of symptoms is possible

It is important to note that the extreme effects mentioned are very rare. But there always is that small possibility that something will go wrong.


It is important to state that there are risks involved in any treatment in mental health. While the risks seem more dangerous with ECT, many people will find relief from this form of treatment.

It is therefore important for a person to consider all of their options, and take time in deciding whether or not they wish to receive ECT.

See Also


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If you are struggling with your mental health, help is available. With the right support and treatment, you can make a recovery. For information on helplines, or if you are in a state of crisis, please visit our crisis page by clicking on the relevant link for your geographical location (United Kingdom), (United States), (International). You can also see how to get mental health treatment and the process involved by clicking this link.


[1] Calev, A., Nigal, D., Shapira, B., Tubi, N., Chazan, S., Ben-Yehuda, Y., Kugelmass, S., & Lerer, B. (1991). Early and long-term effects of electroconvulsive therapy and depression on memory and other cognitive functions. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. 179 (9), p526–533.