Electroconvulsive therapy in the Huffington Post

The Huffington Post yesterday (4th October 2017) ran an advertisement for electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) at the McLean Hospital, Belmont, Massachussetts, USA, psychiatric affiliate of Harvard Medical School and “ranked #1 by U.S. News and World Report”.

“The truth about electroconvulsive therapy” was written by McLean psychiatrist Stephen J. Steiner and took a well-worn path: stigmatized by misleading portrayals in Hollywood – anaesthesia – mild discomforts (little pinprick and mild headaches) – doesn’t damage the brain – neurogenesis – improves cognition and anterograde memory – trivial amount of retrograde amnesia (forgetting details of a play) – only rarely administered involuntarily and only when there is a court order and even then the majority of involuntary patients are “very grateful afterward”, etc. etc.

At the end of the there is a link to the McLean ECT service where there is more of the same: “mild electrical currents”, and “minor problems with memory”.

“The great majority of patients will have only minor problems with memory, though some will experience no difficulties at all. While these problems usually subside, there is no way to predict their extent. The psychiatrist will discuss this potential side effect in greater detail during consultation.”

You don’t have to look far though to find McLean Hospital talking about ECT-induced memory loss in a rather more brutal fashion: “ECT treatment can lead to several known side effects including confusion and memory loss”. This is a typical example of how psychiatrists forget about the minor and transient (usually) nature of memory loss when they are trying to sell an alternative to ECT.  In this case it is intracranial electrical seizure therapy (ICEST) for which McClean filed for a patent in 2011. The technique is similar to ECT but involves planting electrodes into the brain rather than putting them on a person’s head. Memory loss would have to be pretty bad before invasive brain surgery becomes a better alternative.

You also don’t have to look very far to find Stephen Seiner and colleagues experimenting with ECT as a treatment to control agitated and aggressive behaviour in people with dementia. The results were published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry in 2015. The authors made it clear that they were treating behaviour rather than depression: “The treating psychiatrist, in consultation with the ECT service, made a clinical decision regarding the use of ECT treatment for agitation or aggression associated with dementia, irrespective of mood symptoms”.  Twenty-three patients from McLean Hospital and Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services were given ECT. One person died a month after ECT (due the authors said to dementia and not ECT) and several people experienced delirium and other adverse events; scores improved on Cohen-Mansfield Agitation Inventory (CMAI)-short form. The authors found the results “encouraging” and concluded that ECT was a safe and effective treatment. Fifteen of the patients were recommended for continuation ECT.

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9 Responses to Electroconvulsive therapy in the Huffington Post

  1. ECT should be banned in every country in the World!

  2. maieliiv says:

    thank you for this rather disgusting and misleading article from Huff Post – sharing

  3. A national class action has been filed here in the US around the devices used in electroshock ( ECT). As of today a law firm in Canada has accepted suit also around a product liability suit. The manufacturers named are MECTA. and Somatics. Physicians have been knowingly for decades inflicting traumatic brain injuries in the procedure electroshock. Emergency trauma medicine, neurology, and even psychiatry acknowledge known permanent and extensive Neuro cognitive damages following said mechanism of trauma being electrical. We suffer similar outcomes to the NFL players , just a different nechanism of trauma. We are consented highly impaired on drugs which is malpractice. We are not told that the FDA has never tested device or procedure for safety or effectiveness. We are not told device and procedure are experimental. APA (American Psychiatric Assoc) in 1990 all voted to with hold brain damage from consent. Devices have never had to have pre-market approval.Every procedure results in a traumatic brain injury. Big money and even bigger cover ups. Standard of care not met. Physicians have a duty to warn and protect. They are negligent at best here, but I feel this is criminal behavior at the expense of a vulnerable population. See ectjustice.com about pending suit.

  4. Jane says:

    Mild headaches?! That’s insane! I had headaches so bad I had to take narcotics and sleep 24/7 for a week.

  5. Welton says:

    ECT is torture. One pro-ECT article I read was very dismissive of critics of ECT, calling them a minority and implying that anti-ECT people were hysterical or worse. I hope the lawsuit mentioned above is successful. Standard of care and the concept of informed consent all too often go out the window. In my own case, I was never told how many treatments I was to have, and was led to believe that they would continue all my life. I was only 17 when they began, 21 when they stopped.

  6. As I said before, ECT has saved my life. I can enter the clinic feeling awful and leave as a new person. That is not to say that I do not believe the things that others are saying … but it has simply not been the case for me. I have had mild memory loss, but it is worth it compared to the depression I was feeling. Everyone’s reaction is different.

  7. Welton says:

    People who experience only mild memory loss are lucky. I lost years of precious memories, and much of my pre-ECT and during-the-years-of ECT education. To me, the treatment was barbaric and traumatic; I had horrible nightmares for at least 12 years after ECT, where I was lying on the gurney and the doctor was putting the electrodes on my head and I would wake up from the nightmare time and time again, trying to fight him off. Sometimes I would have this recurring nightmare several times a night. For another 20 years I had other frightening nightmares of ECT. I saw a psychiatrist recently when having to undergo treatment for cancer and I had begun experiencing triggers from all the medical tests and procedures for chemotherapy and bone marrow biopsies. This psychiatrist was actually a good person and was understanding; he told me that I obviously was extremely traumatized by the ECT treatments I was subjected to for almost four years — almost 50 years ago!

  8. Welton says:

    But of course I was not depressed, but coerced into treatment as the family scapegoat (alcoholic parents who were very unhappy.) The doctor who shocked me was fired from the hospital where he practiced for “indiscriminate use of electroshock.” I believe he should have been put in prison for what he did to me and to many, many others.

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