Psych Symposium Reveals Shocking Truth

Jacob Aguiar

Electroconvulsive Therapy cured Kitty Dukakis’s depression. For years she struggled with mental illness, and the only treatments her psychologist thought to offer her were medication and Freudian therapy, but nothing helped.

“No one considered Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) because of the stigma it carries,” Dukakis said.

People’s misconceptions about certain treatments like electric shock therapy have hampered the development of these treatment options, which are effective for some patients.

At a recent symposium on mental health in the Healy Library, Keynote Speaker Mrs. Kitty Dukakis related her struggle with severe depression and subsequent alcohol abuse. She stated that she had tried for many years to combat her depression through “conventional means” such as medication and therapy but nothing helped. Electroconvulsive Therapy or ECT was never considered by her psychologist because of the stigma it carries.

Dukakis stated that films like “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest” propagate this popular perception of ECT. This kind of movie vilifies psychiatrists. While patient endure painful electric shocks to the brain, screaming and writhing in pain, doctors muse on the effects like mad scientists.

“Because of this popular image of ECT, it is widely considered to be a cruel and inhuman procedure by psychologist and laymen,” said Dukakis.

According to Mrs. Dukakis not only is this perception wrong but also harmful, because Electroconvulsive Therapy is actually proven to be a very effective treatment for very severe depression. In cases (like her own) when medication and therapy have no effect ECT has had an almost miraculous healing ability.

Mrs. Dukakis reported that after five or six treatments she felt like herself again for the first time in years. She now has monthly ECT treatments and meets with a support group to keep her depression under control.

Besides her own experience Mrs. Dukakis told several anecdotes about others who where inspired by her to have the treatment and meet with similar results.

Electroconvulsive Therapy is not the painful and terrifying experience that it has been made out to be. The person undergoing the procedure is completely anesthetized, they can’t feel anything. Their vital signs are closely monitored as a mild seizure is induced electrically for 30 to 60 seconds.

Before the procedure, a muscle relaxant is administered and an oxygen mask is placed on the patient. The most prevalent side effect is short term memory loss but Mrs. Dukakis stated that the small loss of memory is worth the return to happiness. It is her hope that a better understanding of the procedure and most importantly the results will help to shift people’s perception of ECT and that more clinically depressed people will be made aware and take advantage of this effective procedure.

The second speaker of the night was UMB’s own Paul Nestor, Professor of Psychology. He spoke about the effect of stigma on people diagnosed with schizophrenia. He first gave a brief overview of what schizophrenia is. It most commonly presents itself through paranoia caused by perceived often grandiose conspiracies and hallucinations.

He also listed some risk factors for schizophrenia, such as the abuse of marijuana because of its effect on dopamine receptors in the brain. He also stated that living as an ethnic minority can contribute. For instance being a white person in a mostly black neighborhood or vice versa. Also children with fathers over 40 are more likely to develop schizophrenia. Most importantly, he said, the sources of stigmatization work to undermine treatment.”Most people fear or mistrust people with schizophrenia because of certain popular myths. For example and probably most widely known is the idea that people with schizophrenia are incurable and violent,” Nestor said.

The fact is schizophrenics are more likely to be victims of crime than to commit it. Also continued treatment can have a very positive effect. Another source of stigmatization comes from the idea that you can “catch” schizophrenia like a cold, which is just completely not true.

The final speaker of the evening was a UMB student, Arthur R. Stead.

He presented the preliminary results of his survey on the perceptions of mental illness on the UMB campus. The goal of the study is to show that people with higher education had a much less stigmatic view of mental illness than others.

The eventual goal of the study is to increase education at the lower levels of school regarding mental health. His results were mixed but positive. Students seem to revert to their stigmas about mental illness rather than try to relate with people who are mentally sick.