Electroshock therapy is a medical procedure used to treat mental illness. The treatment, also known as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), consists of short bursts of electricity administered to the patient's brain. It is sometimes used to treat severe depression when antidepressant medications have been of no use.
Italian neurologist Ugo Cerletti began investigating the benefits of electroshock therapy 1938. he observed that pigs about to be slaughtered were electrocuted into unconsciousness in order to make the process easier. Cerletti concluded that this procedure could be useful to patients who suffered from mental illness. Only a year after Cerletti made this discovery, the therapy was introduced into the United States.
During the next three decades, hundreds of thousands of patients were subjected to ECT to treat a variety of conditions, including depression, schizophrenia, and even homosexuality. By the 1960s, however, it had begun to find its credibility as a treatment seriously questioned. Psychotropic medications had become widely used as a treatment for mental illness, and antidepressants were seen as a more humane form of treatment than pumping electricity through the brain.
In the decades since then, however, electroshock therapy has once again gained popularity as a treatment. It does show some promising results for patients that antidepressants have failed to help, which has prompted new interest in the treatment. According to research undertaken by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), ECT has around a 30% higher rate of success in treating depression than medications.
Statistics from the APA have shown that a patient suffering from severe depression can be brought back to normal health in as little as three weeks with the use of electroshock. An report from 1990 claims that this therapy is the safest and most effective treatment for severe depression, and in 1998, 100,000 shock treatments were performed in America.
Electroshock therapy has come a long way from the procedures used in the early days, but many people still associate it with negative depictions in a number of popular movies and books. Peter Bregen, a psychiatrist and author, is a very vocal opponent of ECT, and he claims that undergoing the procedure is similar to playing Russian roulette with the brain. Proven side effects include memory loss, cognitive problems, headaches, muscle pain, and nausea.
The choice to use this type of therapy lies with the individual. In most places, ECT can only legally be performed with the consent of the patient. It cannot be forced upon someone as a treatment, and written consent must be given by the patient or a court-appointed guardian.