The practice of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is often hampered by stigma and myths prevailing among patients and families. Family attendance at ECT has not been systematically studied.
From January 2017 to May 2018, 69 consecutive patients were approached for family attendance at ECT. The inclusion criteria for entry to the ECT suite were consent from families and patients, age older than 18 years, and 1 family member at a time. After watching ECT, family members completed a multiple-choice questionnaire regarding their experience.
Twenty-one family members watched ECT. A majority viewed the idea of attendance at ECT as reassuring, and a few indicated that it was anxiety provoking. Five participants (24%) felt distressed while watching the procedure, whereas 16 family members rated their experience as comfortable or rewarding (76%). In terms of the outcome, a clear majority have responded that watching the procedure alleviated their fears of ECT or provided transformative knowledge, whereas others felt no change in their attitude toward ECT (71% vs 29%). Most of the participants recommended watching ECT to other family members, whereas a minority was uncertain about their opinion (62% vs 38%). There were no adverse effects, premature exit from the ECT suite, interferences with treatment, or litigations.
A clear majority of families viewed their attendance at ECT as a beneficial experience. Family presence during ECT may have the potential to promulgate its practice by reducing stigma and misconceptions.