On Tuesday evening (24 September) the Australian TV programme Insight (“Australia’s leading forum for debate and powerful first person stories”) is featuring ECT. The overview says:
“In Australia, the number of ECT treatments has almost doubled in the last ten years, with just under 30,000 sessions taking place in the last financial year.”
I would query that statistic, or at least like to know where it came from. In Victoria (which is home to about one quarter of Australia’s population) there were nearly 19,000 treatments in 2011-12 which would suggest, unless Victoria is using much more ECT than the rest of the country (always a possibility), a total for Australia of rather more than 30,000. And in Victoria the use of ECT has risen from 15,484 treatments in 2003 to nearly 19,000 in 2011-12, a significant increase but well short of the doubling the programme claims.
Unusually the programme has chosen someone with severe memory loss from ECT to speak in praise of the treatment:
“Natalie Deeth can’t remember her wedding. She’s lost 27 years of her memories after undergoing about a hundred electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) treatments for major depression. But Natalie says the memory loss is worth it.”
And also unusually, the psychiatrist promoting ECT, Colleen Loo, is not disagreeing:
“She accepts some people can lose years’ worth of memories from their lives after ECT, but she says those people are at the extreme end of the spectrum.”
Speaking against ECT is psychologist John Read from the University of Liverpool, who is billed as having recently reviewed the literature on ECT and concluded there is “not a single study in 75 years that shows ECT had any lasting benefits beyond the end of treatment, compared to placebo”. More recently, although the programme overview does not mention this, he has together with Roar Fosse published in Frontiers in Psychiatry an article (Electroconvulsive treatment: hypotheses about mechanisms of action) which reviews the literature and concludes that ECT “affects the brain in a similar manner as severe stress or brain trauma”.