MENTAL health is on the agenda, no more so than this week: Mental Health Awareness Week. Spearheaded by the Mental Health Foundation and other leading voluntary sector organisations, this year’s focus is on stress and its link to mental and physical health.

Fortunately, many of us are becoming more enlightened about mental health than a generation or so ago, when it was something to be ashamed of. My grandmother suffered from depression for some of her life, while her sister sadly took her own life, as a young woman in the 1920s. Yet these were two enterprising sisters, who had cycled round Europe in the pre-First World War days, no-high performance bikes then. They camped, swam in the lakes and boiled eggs in the kettle over a primus stove.

In the 1950s, I remember going with my aunt to Dumfries one weekend to visit my grandmother and take her for a picnic. Only later did I learn that Granny was an inpatient at the Crichton Royal Hospital there, to undergo ECT, controversial then, as it remains today. As a family, it was rarely, if ever spoken about.

Some time ago, cancer was the C word, which people swept under the carpet. Now it is spoken about more freely. When will we lift the taboo on the D (depression) word, and on ECT, which still has its connotations with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and enforced treatments of reluctant patients?

Following a spell of my own depression, I also had ECT, as a last resort, when other therapies and treatment failed to improve my condition. It was a difficult treatment to undertake, but I was carefully prepared for it, with a home visit from a young psychiatrist. He explained the treatment in detail, before seeking my written permission to go on the ECT programme. I entered hospital as an inpatient, where I scarcely said anything to anyone. The ward was locked for obvious reasons and to begin with, I couldn’t leave it on my own.

After several twice-weekly treatments, I began to recover, so I was able to have more freedom and go outside in the hospital grounds myself, before the relief of going out for coffee or lunch, then a trial weekend at home, before I was discharged 5 weeks later. My family fully supported me throughout; not easy for any of them, especially my husband who, along with our daughter, visited me daily. My sister travelled 500 miles to spend a few days visiting me, to let my husband go on a pre-arranged half-term break with our family. She was rewarded with my return to health and unlimited time away from the hospital ward.

After my recovery, I was disappointed: but not entirely surprised, how some people were disapproving that I should have had ECT. The time has surely come to have a more enlightened view of mental health and all its forms of treatment. ECT cured me completely over 18 months

Fiona Garwood,

33 Ormidale Terrace, Edinburgh.