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Low-amp electroconvulsive therapy may relieve suicidal thoughts


New research compares lower amplitude electroconvulsive therapy with standard amplitude for the treatment of suicidal ideation and finds that the former relieves suicidal thoughts without affecting cognitive or memory function.

Suicidal ideation primarily tends to affect individuals aged between 10 and 34 years.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death in people aged between 10 and 34 years.

One of the treatments available for acute suicidal ideation — which includes “thinking about, considering, or planning suicide” — is electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

However, there is considerable stigma around the use of ECT for suicidal thoughts, despite the fact that experts officially recognize it as a valid form of treatment and studies have shown it to be highly effective in treating depression.

Another reason why people often regard ECT with suspicion is that they have concerns regarding the side effects that it may have on cognition and memory. However, the findings of a new study suggest that lowering the amplitude of ECT may help bypass these side effects and make ECT an effective treatment for acute suicidal thoughts.

The principal investigator of the new study is Dr. Nagy A. Youssef, a psychiatrist specializing in ECT in the Medical College of Georgia Department of Psychiatry and Health Behavior at Augusta University.

In the past, Dr. Youssef and his colleagues conducted a first-of-its-kind small study of 22 people with treatment-resistant depression or psychosis. They administered low-amp ECT to the study participants and found that it relieved their depression while having a minimal cognitive impact.

Before undergoing ECT, a person receives general anesthesia and a muscle relaxant to send them to sleep. Then, following the precise placement of electrodes on specific areas of the scalp, short bursts of electrical pulses stimulate their brain while they sleep.


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