Bellvitge Hospital treats 60 patients with persistent depression using electroconvulsive therapy every year


This treatment, still highly stigmatised, achieves clinical improvement in 75% of cases. Bellvitge University Hospital (HUB), a benchmark in electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), organises the 47th edition of a course that has already trained dozens of professionals.

Electroconvulsive therapy consists of inducing generalised neuronal activity in the patient by means of electricity in a personalised dose. The patient anaesthetised receives a charge specifically calculated for them. It is applied for a maximum of 8 seconds. In Catalonia, about a thousand patients per year are treated with ECT in more than twenty hospitals and other specialised centres (public and private). These are people with different disorders, the main one being depression resistant to other therapies. In 75% of cases, treatment leads to clinical improvement.

Dr Mikel Urretavizcaya, head of the ECT and Resistant Depression Programme of the Psychiatry Service of the Hospital de Bellvitge (HUB) and IDIBELL researcher explains: "Despite the negative reputation that has accompanied ECT, with current anaesthesia and patient monitoring protocols, it is an effective and safe treatment that is being administered in more and more centres and in a more personalised way.”

The image of ECT in public opinion remains negative and coercive in most cases. In 2016, a study by Dr Pascal Sinaert of the University Psychiatric Centre KU Leuven (Belgium) analysed ECT appearances in films and TV programmes since 1948 to conclude that 80% of films and 72% of TV programmes portray a negative and inaccurate image of the treatment. According to the study, in most scenes, ECT is used as a metaphor for repression, mind and behaviour control, or is shown as a painful and harmful memory-erasing treatment. In Dr Urretavizcaya's opinion, "de-stigmatising ECT and the people who receive it requires careful training of the professionals who apply it and acknowledgment of the degree of satisfaction of patients and their families".

In response to this training need, the Psychiatry Service of the HUB launched the Electroconvulsive Therapy Course (ECT) in 1993. With today's course, it reaches its 47th edition. The aim of the course, in which specialists from all over Spain and abroad have been trained, is to improve the competence of psychiatrists in the use of electroconvulsive therapy in order to increase its efficiency degree, the evaluation of the clinical response and possible adverse effects, as well as the management of highly complex situations. Reducing stigma also involves taking into account the voice of ECT patients and their families.

For this matter, the Psychiatry Service of the HUB, a benchmark in ECT treatment, together with its counterpart at the Hospital Universitario 12 de Octubre in Madrid, has carried out the first and only adaptation of the Patiente Satisfacton Survey in Spanish, which will enable patient satisfaction to be assessed. This work, which has been published in the journal Actas Españolas de Psiquiatria, will be applied in the near future with patients to obtain the first assessments.