Professor John Read: Fear and Loathing in the ECT Debate

This article by Prof. John Read has been published by the Council for Evidence-Based Psychiatry (CEP). It begins:

The Lack of Evidence for ECT

To the surprise of many people, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is still being administered to approximately a million people a year internationally, including about 3,000 here in the UK. It involves passing enough electric current through the human brain, eight to twelve times, to cause convulsions, in the hope of somehow alleviating emotional suffering, primarily depression.

Our recent review reported that there have only ever been 11 placebo-controlled studies (where general anaesthesia is administered but the electric shock is withheld). All 11 were pre-1986, had very small sample sizes, and were seriously flawed. Four found ECT produced better outcomes for some patients in the short-term, five found no difference between the two groups at the end of treatment, and two produced mixed results, including one where psychiatrists’ ratings produced a difference, but the ratings of nurses and patients did not.

No studies have found any evidence that ECT is better than placebo beyond the end of treatment. Nevertheless, all five meta-analyses relying on these studies have concluded that ECT is more effective than placebo, despite the studies’ multiple failings. Meanwhile evidence of persistent or permanent memory loss in 12% to 55% of patients has accumulated …”

You can read more from here.

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