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1 year ago
How Electroconvulsive Therapy Helped Treat My Depression

mental health awareness month
Mackenzie Stroh

Although it’s not always talked about so openly, mental illness is quite common—in fact, according to a survey done by Women’s Health and the National Alliance of Mental Illness, 78 percent of women suspect they have one, and 65 percent have been diagnosed with one. Still, a huge stigma persists. To break that down, we spoke to 12 women dealing with conditions like depression, PTSD, and more. All this month, we’re sharing their stories.

Name: Risa Sugarman

Age: 41

Occupation: Blogger

Diagnosis: Depression

As a teen, Risa Sugarman never felt happy, but she had no idea that anything was wrong. It wasn't until she went away to college that the now 41-year-old Connecticut mom first sought help for depression. Although she tried several different meds, none of them seemed to help for long, and Risa was hospitalized during her junior year.

After a rocky period in her mid-twenties, Risa felt she had overcome the worst of her depression by her late twenties and early thirties. However, infertility struck, and the difficulties of IVF combined with the monthly hormonal roller coaster made her feel worse than ever. On her 13th round of IVF, however, Risa got pregnant.

RELATED: My Schizophrenic Hallucinations Started When I Was 3 Years Old

After her daughter was born, she wanted to use some frozen embryos to try and get pregnant again. None of these pregnancies took, and last year Risa had to grieve the loss of her ability to have another child. Reeling from hormones and grief, Risa's depression took a turn for the worse. Friends didn't seem to understand. 

"They would say things like I had so many wonderful blessings, how could I be depressed?" she says. It only made her feel worse.

RELATED: What It’s Really Like to Have Severe Post-Partum Depression

Eventually, she was hospitalized again. This time, one of the nurses told her that she didn't look like a patient. Stunned, Risa replied, "What did you think a patient would look like?"

With no more meds to try, Risa's husband encouraged her to undergo electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Scared of what she had seen in the movies, Risa initially refused, but finally realized she had nothing to lose by trying. She completed several months of ECT and dropped back to a part-time job. Friends and family helped drive her to the hospital and baby-sit her daughter. She still continues with monthly maintenance ECT and has started a new type of group therapy to help her manage negative emotions and destructive thinking patterns.

Pick up the May 2016 issue of Women's Health, on newsstands now, for tips on how to help a friend who has a mental illness, advice on how to disclose a diagnosis at work, and more. Plus, go to our Mental Health Awareness center for more stories like Risa's and to find out how you can help break the stigma surrounding mental illness.

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