Shock and Panic

Critics allege that electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) causes brain damage in unwitting victims. But there is no scientific evidence that ECT leads to lasting impairment, while permanent cognitive and memory disturbances are far more likely to result from use of widely prescribed antipsychotic drugs and antidepressants.

CARDIFF – No medical therapy is treated more differently by countries, regions, hospitals, and doctors than electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). This is surprising in an era when treatments that work should supposedly be used with some uniformity. In fact, despite a consensus that ECT is the most effective treatment for severe depressive disorder, it comes at the bottom of the list in most treatment regimens for mood disorders.

Some of the unease about ECT stems from psychiatry’s dark past, when patients in many countries had fewer legal rights than prisoners. Not so long ago, physical treatments such as lobotomy and ECT could be inflicted on patients without their consent, and sometimes for punitive purposes.

But there is no comparable protest against the use of antipsychotic drugs, which have similarly been forced on people – and even used to torture prisoners. And, whereas few people now get ECT involuntarily, and in all cases consent is sought, a large and growing number get antipsychotic drugs under false pretences, including children, vulnerable adults, patients with Alzheimer’s, and a host of others whose lives are shortened by treatment, with no effort undertaken to seek their consent.

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