Letter: Benefits and drawbacks of electric shock therapy

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The Independent Online
Sir: Alan Moore (Letters, 14 December), in deploring the negative image given of ECT by Sharon Kingman's account (7 December) of the use of ECT without anaesthetic, quotes, in support of his argument that ECT is of undoubted benefit, a study which showed that 50 per cent of patients questioned after having ECT found the experience less frightening than going to the dentist. This implies that 50 per cent found that having ECT was more frightening than going to the dentist.

Long-term studies of the benefits of ECT do not confirm Dr Moore's claims. In a review study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry in 1989, Dr Allan Scott wrote:

There is no agreed definition of recovery after ECT. There is debate about the quantitative improvement that is required, and about the timing of this assessment. When follow-up is extended beyond the period of hospital stay, the method of assessment may be unsatisfactory; for example, some recent outcome studies have relied on follow- up by telephone. The majority of patients with endogenous (biological) depression do well in the short term after ECT, but there is greater variability of outcome as the length of follow-up is extended. Recent outcome studies have found that less than one-third of patients remain well six months after ECT.

What justification can there be for using such an inefficient technique, which so many patients find frightening?

Yours sincerely,



14 December