Walking the streets of Alice Springs, Town Crier Meredith Campbell rings bells and greets people she passes.
She says with a smile that such moments still feel like a miracle.
Just six months ago, Ms. Campbell was in the darkest place she had ever been.
She couldn’t bathe, boil a kettle, send text messages, or drive a car.
She would neither leave the house nor allow her loved ones to touch her.
It was a complete change from the bubbly, sociable woman everyone knew, who “lived for social interaction”.
Ultimately, he would receive a diagnosis of acute depression with psychosis.
At that moment, everything seemed hopeless.
That was, until she was forced to seek out a little-known, even stigmatized treatment, without which, she says, she would not be here today.
“It was a therapy that saved my life,” Ms Campbell said.
“It pulled me out of the deepest black hole I have ever experienced in my 65 years.”
‘I didn’t feel like I was in complete control’
Ms Campbell said while her symptoms developed slowly, she first noticed something was wrong on May 15 this year.
“I went to meet a friend for lunch and I was really wobbly, I didn’t feel like I had full control of the vehicle,” she said.
She remembers the day when “everything stopped”.
“Depression with psychosis means you’re immersed in very bad thoughts about what’s going to happen to you, you’re immersed in negativity,” Ms Campbell said.
“Part of my diagnosis was nihilistic tendencies, which means having delusions of extreme negativity, and even fantasizing about death.”
Ms Campbell locked herself in the house and stopped bathing or cooking.
A local wedding celebrant, she abandoned all her bookings overnight, but she couldn’t even bring herself to call clients to tell them why.
She became obsessed with the fear that he was somehow contagious, and wouldn’t let her son near her if he passed it on to her two children.
“They realized there was some mental breakdown happening, so they called an ambulance,” he said.
It is mandatory to receive ECT
Over a period of four months, Ms Campbell faced emergencies four times.
On his last presentation, he was admitted to the mental health ward of Alice Springs Hospital.
It was here that his psychiatric team decided that it would be mandatory for him to receive electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).
She still remembers feeling scared.
“All I knew about it was very bad publicity,” she said.
“Like 50 years ago, when you got an electric shock through your brain you’d be given a leather strap to cut and a final prayer.”
She was taken to Darwin, where she remained for about a month for treatment.
Ms Campbell said that contrary to her expectations, the procedure was given under anaesthetic.
After just three sessions, she began to notice changes.
She started eating more and exercising and, after a total of 10 sessions, enjoyed a vacation to a tropical resort with her husband.
She arrived in Darwin in a wheelchair, but was able to return to Alice Springs without any mobility aid.
She said, “I credit ECT with turning my prospects around, and I think of it as a miracle cure.”
Concerns ECT is still stigmatized
ECT involves passing a carefully controlled electrical current through the brain while the patient is under anesthesia, essentially “rewiring it.”
Clinical psychiatrists say the modern procedure is safe and effective in relieving severe symptoms of depression and psychosis.
Colleen Lu is Professor of Psychiatry at the University of New South Wales and the Black Dog Institute, and an internationally recognized clinical expert in ECT.
He said that at a micro level, the process caused individual brain cells to regrow and become “thick and healthy”, while at a macro level, it was like “rebooting a computer”.
“We know that with disorders like depression, the brain gets stuck in patterns of circuit functioning that are different from when people are in normal health,” he said.
“The fact that ECT can reset it so powerfully, we think is very useful.”
However, Professor Lu said there is still widespread stigma around ECT, which is being made worse by online misinformation.
“I have to explain to people that these opinions are not really based on facts,” he said.
Professor Lu said there was a wide range of ECT outcomes, but most patients had improved brain function.
“It’s a vicious cycle that because it’s stigmatized, people don’t want to say they have it and that they’ve had a great experience,” she said.
“But because we don’t hear those messages, the stigma persists.”
positive about the future
Months later, Meredith Campbell is opening up about her experience.
She hopes her story will help her community understand how common mental illness is and that it can affect anyone.
She added, “But I also want to say why I was absent from public life for so long without any explanation, there was just a tremendous silence.”
Looking back, Ms. Campbell doesn’t want a repeat of those bad months, but she also feels grateful for what she learned.
“It’s just a part of my life story. And in a way, I’ve benefited from it,” he said.
“It has taught me a lot about my own potential, and also about the potential of other people around me, especially my family and dear friends who stepped in to help.
“I think the future is going to look rosy and bright.”
Editor’s Note (12/27/23): While Meredith Campbell has had success with electroconvulsive therapy, all mental health care should be done in consultation with your own medical team.
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