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mental health

I Was On Dr. Oz to Talk About Electroconvulsive Therapy & This Is What Happened

risa sugerman

This article is part of the Here. Now. essay series, which seeks to de-stigmatize mental health treatment, and improve accessibility to treatment and support for teens and parents in metropolitan New York. 

Last week, I found myself as a guest on the Dr. Oz show, sharing some of my most personal, revealing details about my struggle with mental health on national TV for all to hear. How did that happen?!

A week earlier I received an email from a producer at the show, stating they had come across one of the articles I wrote about my experience with ECT (electroconvulsive therapy). While skeptical at first, I responded and began a 48-hour back and forth of emails and phone calls. I told my story, briefly, and before I knew it I was invited to tape a segment about ECT on the Dr. Oz show just days later.

I’ll admit that I was pretty damn excited just to get a small piece of my story with ECT out there. While the excitement was real, so was the anticipatory anxiety. I usually feel anxiety prior to any big event, but am fine during the event. The couple of days before the taping, I was anxious, but not necessarily about my role in the program. I was focused on wardrobe, my hair, and petty things like that. I was told to wear a bright colored top and I opened my closet only to find dark, subdued clothing. I picked out something, tried it on, and made a quick decision.

On the drive to New York, I was excited. I had a day of fun planned before the taping the next morning and I made good use of that time. The night before, while out to dinner with my brother and brother-in-law, I was able to enjoy a good meal and tried to focus and stay in the moment so I would not be overcome by anxiety. I stayed with them at their lovely apartment which was comfortable and actually eased my nerves.

But I did not sleep well that night, for even strong psychiatric meds were no match for my anxiety. But that didn’t seem to matter anyway—by the next morning, I was running on adrenalin and anxiety which is quite the fun duo! I was well aware that I was doing something important and big. Not everyone goes on national television to talk about their experience with a still misunderstood treatment for depression. Being given a seizure while under anesthesia (which is what ECT is comprised of) is not something you see every day on television and certainly not in an honest and realistic way. So beyond being nervous, I was really excited.

My brother had to be in court (lawyer) and was unable to come with me on this particular adventure, so my brother-in-law came with me. I titled him my “handler.” The studio sent a black Mercedes for us. We were shown into the building by someone who looked like she was 15 years old. After I got settled in my dressing room, I just looked around and thought to myself how surreal this all was. When they came to get me for hair and make-up, I just smiled and went with the flow of things. I went over bits of my story with a producer who looked like she was 20 years old and was then escorted to the stage. They were finishing taping an OJ Simpson story and moved things quickly to my piece.

They began with a doctor who is a researcher and champion of ECT. I was then brought in and answered scripted questions by Dr. Oz. I actually felt very comfortable and at ease, which had nothing to do with Dr. Oz himself, although he was very nice. It had to do with me and who I am. I am very comfortable with my treatment choices and I am very comfortable presenting myself in front of others, even in front of a live audience. I felt the importance and gravity of what I was doing, not just putting myself out there but hopefully reaching others who are enduring something similar. I felt responsible and although this may sound narcissistic, I felt important.

The segment was over quickly and my brother-in-law told me I seemed very calm. Then someone else, who looked like she was 17 years old, escorted us back to my dressing room and then to our car that would take us back to the apartment. At this point I had come to the conclusion that I am either very old or people who work in TV are very young.

My goal was to get pieces of my story out and to normalize, just a little bit, those three letters: ECT. I may have given the viewers of Dr. Oz some hope, education, and normalization of a safe and helpful treatment. At the same time, Dr. Oz gave me a reason to own my progress and my strong sense of self.

Check out the segment below:

How ECT Can Treat Depression


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This post is part of the Here.Now series, which seeks to destigmatize mental health,
and is made possible by UJA-Federation
of New York and The Jewish Board.
You can find other educational mental health resources here.

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