Shock Treatment Works? The benefits of electric shock therapy

A new study of ECT finds it more effective than drugs for depression.

By Jason Williams, published on March 1, 2003 - last reviewed on January 23, 2015

A comprehensive study of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) by British
researchers has found that the treatment is effective in relieving
depression, and in some cases may be more effective than medication.
Though abuse of the technique in the early 20th century has attached a
negative connotation to the use of ECT, the new study attempts to
discredit any stigma.

The study compared ECT treatment to a control group that received
mock-ECT, as well as drug treatment. The effectiveness of ECT when
applied to one or both hemispheres of the brain, and high- and low-dose
trials were also compared. Effectiveness was determined by the reduction
of symptoms of depression.

Researchers found ECT to be more effective than the use of drugs to
treat short-term depression and maintain that ECT should be considered as
a serious therapy option, although it is associated with causing some
memory loss.

“The question for any treatment is, What is its
viability?” says Stephen Schlesinger, Ph.D., a professor in the
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern
University Medical School in Illinois “If we were about to be
treated, we would want to know the track record, not only whether it
works, but also how. The trouble with electroconvulsive therapy is we
don't really know.”

ECT has been used since the early 1900s. The process involves
inducing a seizure in an anaesthetized patient by applying electric
stimulation to the brain. The reasoning is that the seizure will in
effect reset the brain, causing the release of chemicals that may boost
signals between neurons.

The report appeared in the journal
The Lancet.