Shock and Awe

The stunning comeback of electroshock and other harrowing treatments for the mentally ill

When DBS was explained to her, Deb said, she "was scared to death with the thought of somebody cutting open [Kelley's] head and sticking rods in it and playing with her brain," adding: "It's not only experimental, it's dangerous experimental. But when you are that sick and nothing else works, you'll do whatever. If someone said to her, 'You have to cut off your right arm and left leg to be well,' she would probably do it."

Suicidal thoughts, Kelley said, are still a "constant companion." She feels as if it's the one true way to end her depression, the only one that won't disappoint her. "I just need relief—I'm so tired of treading water," she said. "If the DBS study falls through, I am going to have to re-evaluate my reasons for living." Kelley has already made arrangements for her death: In a fit of morbid activity last year, she did all the paperwork necessary to donate her brain to Harvard for postmortem research into depression.

Illustration by Marco Marella

Lisanby said she doesn't know when enrollment for her DBS study will begin, but she has urged Kelley to hold out. "Despite going through all those disappointing treatments, she keeps trying. The field is right there with her, trying to find solutions. She shows that one can bear it and maintain hope," Lisanby said. "There is a reason for that hope."

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