The University of Michigan Health System’s Department of Psychiatry is set to open a new treatment facility on Monday, July 11 under the supervision of Daniel Maixner, associate professor of psychiatry and director of the Electroconvulsive Therapy Program at the University. The space will be entirely dedicated to the practice of electroconvulsive therapy, a treatment created to relieve symptoms of patients with varying mental illnesses by means of brief, controlled seizures.

Once completed, the $3.6 million project will have transformed 9,500 square feet of the old University Hospital south wing into an advanced treatment suite. What once held unused operating rooms will now be home to cutting-edge ECT.

According to Maixner, ECT use has been drastically increasing since the late 2000s, going from about 1,000 treatments to more than 2,000 treatments in the United States per year. However, its use has been limited in some states, with laws in place that require states to incorporate age guidelines and limits. In Texas, for example, children under the age of 16 are not allowed to receive ECT as a treatment method.

The University’s ECT program incorporates widespread treatment of all ages. Maixner said he does not mind the extra paperwork that accompanies this variety, because depression and mental illness know no age.

The move will make the ECT treatment more efficient since it will combine services that were previously separated between the first and ninth floor into one area. Maixner said this enclosed space will help ease the transition between rooms for patients, giving them the feeling of a more controlled, secure environment.

Maixner added that increasing the size of the ECT unit will also improve the patient experience, with quiet and comfortable surroundings targeting the specific needs of the facility’s patients. Individual interview rooms for pre- and post-treatment care have also been added to the program, in which patients will complete comprehensive rating scales before and after ECT, as well as other questionnaires to determine the treatment’s success level.

The facility will also be tripling in size, which will allow the program to treat more than double the amount of patients as before, most of whom suffer from severe depression.

Maixner said many people with depression are reluctant to receive treatment, despite the prominence of the disease.

“The problem with depression is that a third or more of people can become resistant to treatment,” Maixner said. “So if there’s at any given time 15 or 20 million people that might have some form of depression in the U.S., a couple million people have some form of resistance to treatment.”

Maixner said ECT induces remission on a much higher percentage in comparison to medicine, and it also is an option for patients who have tried different types of medicine with no success.

“I always try to teach the young doctors and students that with medications, historically when they’re tested for outcomes in depression, they’re trying to prove that the drug will get you at least 50 percent better,” he said. “But, you know, to me 50 percent better is not good enough. You wouldn’t want to be half way depressed, right? You just wouldn’t want to do that if you don’t have to.”

However, according to Maixner, one major drawback of ECT is the stigma with which it is associated. While the term “electroconvulsive therapy” may remind patients of psychiatric scenes in old movies, the doctors urge people not to be so quick on their judgments. Maixner said ECT has evolved into a safer, more trusted method of treatment through the decades, and many studies to ensure its safety.

Editor's note: an earlier version of this article stated July 11 as a Saturday. That date is actually a Monday.

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