Mum Leah Bennett, 28, from Queensland, was stunned when doctors revealed their plan to treat her postnatal depression. But she couldn't be happier with the results.
Here she explains her story in her own words.
Sitting in the doctor’s room, I felt frightened. He’d just suggested a terrifying treatment for my depression.
‘So,’ I said, ‘You want to electrocute my brain?’ It was a lot to take in, but it felt like a last resort. The journey to this point had been terrible.
When I was pregnant with my second son, Payton, I’d gotten very down and been given antidepressants. After his birth I began suffering from post-natal depression.
For months, I hid it, crying in the shower. Exhausted – I couldn’t even play with my kids. ‘I’m worried about you,’ said my husband Wayne, 32.
More pills and a psychologist didn’t cure me, and although I loved my job as a nurse, I began calling in sick. Then, when Payton was one, I found myself thinking of ways to end my life.
Before I could do it, another nurse asked if I was all right. ‘I’m not,’ I confessed, and broke down. I spent 10 days in a mental health ward but after three weeks at home I was back feeling down.
‘She’s no better,’ Wayne said. ‘She needs help.’ That’s when the doctor suggested electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT.
‘It should change your brain chemistry. I know it sounds scary,’ he said. Scary? It sounded terrifying! I thought of a movie, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, where a character writhes in agony.
Thankfully, the reality wasn’t as bad.
I forgot how I'd got to the hospital
‘You’ll be unconscious,’ the doctor assured me. ‘So you won’t feel a thing.’
There was a chance my memory could be affected, but digesting the news, I decided to go for it.
I can’t go on like this, I realised. So they put me under, applied electrodes to my temples, and shocked my brain.
When I came to I felt exhausted and for a while, I forgot how I’d got to the hospital.
After 17 sessions over several weeks, I felt much better. ‘You’re smiling again,’ Wayne said, stunned. ‘I feel happy!’ I said.
I even laughed again.
In fact, I was so thrilled I raised $7500 for beyondblue, a non-profit organisation which helps those with depression and anxiety.
Now I’m fully recovered, back at work, and love playing with my sons, Slater, eight, and Payton, 14 months.
I feel blessed. ECT is a last resort, but I wouldn’t be here without it. ●
If you or someone you know is struggling, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
What is ECT?
■ (ECT) is used to treat certain psychiatric conditions.
■ An electric current is passed through the brain to change activity.
■ It can relieve symptoms of severe depression and psychosis.
■ Although it is safe, it should only be used if absolutely necessary.