The FDA is considering reclassifying the ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) machines from Class III, dangerous, to Class II, more established. However, there has never been a full investigation of the safety of the machines. About 130 medical devices have been backlogged for investigation for decades by the FDA. Right now the proponents of ECT cite numerous research literature articles showing efficacy and safety. A full investigation into the history of ECT was done in Linda Andre’s excellent book Doctors of Deception.
However, almost all of these articles were written by people who own the companies who make the ECT machines. Almost all the NIMH grants to study ECT in the last two decades have been given to proponents of shock treatment who have a vested interest in not investigating the safety of ECT. Instead they have made numerous variations on how to do shock instead of looking at whether we should be doing it at all. Almost all of the articles that the surgeon general, the American Psychiatric Association, and the FDA cite are not real literature reviews. They are selective reviews which only use articles that support shock. Instead they should be systematic reviews that incorporate the numerous studies showing brain damage and lack of long term efficacy. Some studies show increased risk of suicide for people who have recieved ECT even though it is claimed to prevent suicide.
Another reason to worry about shock is that people are not given truly informed consent. Most people are only told that memory loss will be temporary. Instead, for every single person who receives ECT, including me, some long term memory is permanently lost. I have about a year missing even though I was told it would be only temporary memory loss. Furthermore, people are never informed about the potential permanent loss of cognitive abilities. This is an unfortunate side effect for a certain unstudied number of people who receive ECT. People have had their IQ’s lowered by 20 points or more. People with epilepsy are told to be careful with their seizure meds because seizures can cause brain damage. Why should seizures then be good for people with mental illness? ECT also costs $10,000 per treatment with usually 7 – 12 treatments in a series. Imagine how much peer support or effective therapy or animal therapy or any number of non-invasive options this would pay for.
The FDA just concluded a public comment period. There are currently 1395 comments publicly posted on the docket folder. Many of the comments from consumers tell of personal and tragic experience with ECT. I didn’t see a single comment from a consumer who had been helped by ECT. Many of the comments from psychiatrists are a form letter. Most likely the American Psychiatric Association sent out this form letter and told the doctors that ECT might be taken away. About half of the comments are pro ECT and about half are for a true investigation into the safety of the procedure, which has never been done.
I don’t believe that ECT should be banned. It’s effective for some people who are not responsive and are very severely ill. However, everyone offered ECT should be told the truth: There will be permanent memory loss and possibly a risk or permanent cognitive disability. People should know both of these facts going into the treatment.