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Let the public know the truth about electroshock

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ELECTROSHOCK
;" It does not prevent suicide and for a minority may precipitate it. The short-term benefit gained by a small minority does not warrant the risks involved. In other branches of medicine, a treatment with such an imbalance between risk and benefit would be deemed unethical." John Read
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is still used on several thousand people every year in England, many without their consent. It involves passing approximately 130 volts through the brain in order to cause a grand mal seizure. It has been believed, for 80 years, that this somehow improves mental health problems ranging from depression to psychosis. It is used disproportionately on women and people over 50 years old.On Wednesday (24/7) BBC-2's Tonight programme will examine the most recent discovery of how ECT works. A study by researchers at the University of Aberdeen has found that ECT reduces connectivity between different brain regions and, based on the hypothesis that depressed people have too much connectivity, concludes that ECT works because it reduces connectivity.These claims are refuted in the programme by Professor John Read of the University of Liverpool, who published a review of the efficacy of ECT in 2010, with Professor Richard Bentall (also of the University of Liverpool). Professor Read's first point is that the study had a sample of just nine people. Secondly he argues that it is hard to discover how a treatment works when there is no evidence that it does work.The 2010 Read and Bentall review could not identify a single study demonstrating any benefit beyond the end of the treatment period compared to placebo, no evidence that – as often claimed by ECT proponents – it prevents suicide, and substantial evidence that it causes brain damage primarily in the form of memory loss and cognitive dysfunction, and involves a small but significant risk of death.Dr Read: "It is perhaps unsurprising that passing 130 volts through brain cells designed to use tiny fractions of one volt should cause brain damage. It seems odd to have one branch of medicine working on better ways to prevent and treat seizures while another is intentionally causing them". Dr Read reminds us, however, that this seemingly bizarre situation came about, in the 1930s, because it was genuinely believed that there was a 'biological antagonism' between epilepsy and schizophrenia. This led to people with epilepsy being injected with the blood of 'schizophrenics' while psychiatrists sought ways to cause grand mal seizures in 'schizophrenics'.The other theory at the time was that mental patients had either too much brain activity or too many traumatic memories and that ECT 'worked' precisely because it lowered cognitive function and eradicated memories. Intentionally causing brain dysfunction has since become viewed as unethical by most docotrs. Professor Read: "The recent claim, that ECT works by reducing brain connectivity, has taken us backwards by 80 years when it was openly acknowledged that what ECT actually does is reduce brain function. The Aberdeen team has not discovered how ECT helps people, it has simply added to the long list of detrimental effects of electrocuting the human brain."Professor Read's latest review of ECT research (in the 2nd edtiion of his book "Models of Madness" - published in May) concludes:"There is no evidence that ECT has any benefit lasting beyond a few days. It does not prevent suicide and for a minority may precipitate it. The short-term benefit gained by a small minority does not warrant the risks involved. In other branches of medicine, a treatment with such an imbalance between risk and benefit would be deemed unethical."The Newsnight piece includes a patient who has 'maintenance ECT' on a regular basis and a patient who describes the memory loss she has suffered as a result of ECT.Prof John Read - Insitute of Psychology, Health and Society, University of Liverpoolreadj@liv.ac.uk

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