Letters to the Washington Post on the "Shock
I was impressed with the evenhandedness of "Shock Therapy: It's Back"
[Cover, September 24]. I had 12 shock treatments in early 1995 and 17 early
this year. The results? I have major memory loss of at least the past two
years. I still get somewhat confused when driving, even in familiar areas.
I retired from my job between the two series of treatments, and there
were three different retirement parties for me. I have no recollection
of any of them. I have kept a daily journal for the past two years. Most
of it is so unfamiliar to me that it could have been written by somebody
Another result of the treatments is that I am alive to write this; I
did not kill myself. I believe that my "cure," if any of us can be cured
of our maladies of the mind and of the soul, will come from my continuing
talk therapy. Recovering from depression is real work, and neither pill
nor machine can substitute for the labor involved.
A fellow human who has been trained can make the work of recovery just
bearable, but possible. It is the human touch that makes the difference;
the hand that can reach to the bottom of the barrel to find me, that can
give a shove from behind or a pull from ahead and that can squeeze my hand
in encouragement as we move ahead together.
I have the utmost respect for people in the mental health fields. I
intensely hope that researchers will be doing studies that will shed more
light on the memory problems connected with ECT [electroconvulsive therapy].
There is research going on into treatments with similarities to ECT and
continuing research into many aspects of depressive illness.
With managed care doing its part, perhaps we can look forward to bringing
down the true costs of serious depression, which are suffering, broken
physical health, broken homes, lost productivity and suicide.
Ann M. Hargrove
The superb article raised serious questions not only about the procedure's
usefulness but about its safety.
The American Psychiatric Association's model informed consent form,
which many ECT facilities use at least in part, makes false claims on two
safety issues: that "perhaps 1 in 200" ECT patients report lasting memory
problems and that one in 10,000 patients dies as a result of ECT.
The crucial question is not, "Does ECT cause lasting memory problems?"
but, "How severe and disabling are they?"
The article reported on a group of more than 2,000 ECT patients in Texas
that had a death rate of roughly one in 100. It also cited a 1993 study
of 65 hospitalized patients over 80 years of age, 28 of whom were treated
with medications and 37 with ECT. Within a year, one in the medicated group
and 10 in the ECT group were dead.
In these and other ways, psychiatrists are misleading tens of thousands
of patients annually into accepting ECT.
I underwent electroshock involuntarily in 1963.
Leonard Roy Frank
As a psychiatric survivor of more than 50 insulin subcoma shocks, shock
critic and anti-psychiatry activist, I congratulate you for publishing
a sound and well-researched critique. Electroshock is increasing at an
alarming rate as a psychiatric pacification weapon north and south of the
I am a former teacher and registered nurse whose life was forever changed
by 13 outpatient ECTs I received in 1983. Shock "therapy" totally and permanently
EEGs [electroencephalograms] verify the extensive damage shock did to
my brain. Fifteen to 20 years of my life were simply erased; only small
bits and pieces have returned. I was also left with short-term memory impairment
and serious cognitive deficits.
It is beyond me how the government and the FDA can take issues such
as the labeling of orange juice as "concentrated" or "fresh" as important
to the American people while disregarding issues such as shock machines.
There is no government inspection of ECT devices.
Shock "therapy" took my past, my college education, my musical abilities,
even the knowledge that my children were, in fact, my children. I call
ECT a rape of the soul.
Barbara C. Cody, BS, RN
Hoffman Estates, Ill.
Your cover story correctly notes that electroconvulsive therapy is broadly
considered by organized medicine to be a treatment of proven efficacy against
severe depression. However, it is inaccurate in stating that the American
Psychiatric Association "has sought to make ECT a first-line therapy for
depression and other mental illnesses, rather than a treatment of last
The APA Task Force Report on ECT recommends that the treatment be used
only when other forms of therapy, such as medications or psychotherapy,
have not been effective or cannot be tolerated, and in life-threatening
cases when other treatments will not work quickly enough.
It is significant that the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and
the National Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association, two major organizations
representing patients and families, support the appropriate use of ECT.
Melvin Sabshin, MD
American Psychiatric Association
In 1995, Texas State Reps. Dawnna Dukes, Billy Clemmons and I introduced
bipartisan legislation in the House of Representatives to outlaw the use
in Texas of the barbaric psychiatric treatment known as electroshock therapy.
We were aided by advocacy groups like the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the National Organization for Women
(NOW) and the World Association of Electroshock Survivors.
Our legislation died in committee. Fortunately, Texas has a law requiring
detailed reporting on the use of shock therapy. As your story pointed out,
vulnerable elderly women are the primary targets.
Since introducing my bill, I have met with and heard from scores of
human "after-shock" victims who were treated like lab rats and now suffer
permanent new afflictions such as memory loss, learning disabilities and
seizure disorders. Few people are properly warned of the known dangers
of shock treatment.
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