Letter: Benefits and drawbacks of electric shock therapy

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Sir: It would be very unfortunate if people who are troubled by depression, or their relatives, were to be misled by the allegations about ECT in the letter from Lucy Johnstone (14 December). Virtually every statement contained in it is without foundation.

Not only is the evidence for the efficacy of ECT in severe depression overwhelming, on the basis of scientific studies, but this is still by far the most effective single treatment for that distressing disorder. Complaints of memory loss after ECT have neither been ignored nor discounted by psychiatrists; in fact, repeated studies over nearly 50 years have failed to reveal any loss beyond the first few weeks. For many patients, memory is actually improved when their depression is relieved.

Although the value of ECT, like many other treatments in medicine, was originally discovered accidentally, its rationale is now established by research on neurotransmitters within the brain. Their level is raised by ECT, as it is by antidepressant drugs. This treatment also has an established efficacy in other less common psychiatric disorders. That different psychiatrists use it to different extents is neither surprising nor sinister, since they have to deal with very varying groups of patients, in varying circumstances.

ECT is one of the safest procedures in medicine and has relieved millions of people of untold suffering. As your own newspaper reported recently, psychological treatments such as counselling have their own drawbacks, and even dangers.

Yours etc,



The British Journal

of Psychiatry

London, SW1

14 December