ECT is an essential treatment and can save lives during COVID-19

27 March 2020

For some patients experiencing severe mental illness, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is an essential treatment which can save their life.

‘There are some emergency circumstances where ECT is indicated as an urgent treatment of choice and not to give this type of therapy actually puts the patient at risk,’ said the President of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) , Associate Professor John Allan.

‘In considering the implications of COVID-19 for ECT, just like with many other mental health treatments, it is important for patients to discuss their needs with their treating psychiatrist.

‘ECT has a strong evidence base and is a safe medical procedure given under general anaesthetic in accordance with strict practice guidelines.

‘This will include the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health professionals according to the current guidelines.

‘It is the best treatment option for particular patients and conditions, especially for a number of major depressive disorders and other psychiatric disorders.’

Dr Alan Weiss, Chair of the RANZCP Section of Electroconvulsive Therapy and Neurostimulation Working Group, affirmed the importance of patients carefully considering their treatment needs in consultation with their doctor.

‘This is a complex clinical decision that must be done on an individual patient basis, and the patient’s treating psychiatrist, in consultation with an ECT credentialed psychiatrist, is best placed to make this decision.

‘Your psychiatrist will discuss with the patient the need for ECT, considering the risks and benefits when making a decision to proceed with acute or continuation/maintenance ECT, to defer treatment to a later date, or not to proceed with ECT.

Importantly, for those patients who choose ECT, there are additional precautions in place to minimise the risks of virus transmission.

For more information on ECT, see the RANZCP’s Professional Practice Guidelines on Electroconvulsive Therapy, and Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT).

For consumer information on ECT and for all other expert mental health information, visit Your Health in Mind, the RANZCP’s consumer health information website.

ENQUIRIES: For more information, or to arrange an interview call Sarah Carr on +61 437 315 911, or email