March 1, 1997
The Times
Woman sets record for shock treatment

BY JEREMY LAURANCE, HEALTH CORRESPONDENT

A WOMAN has undergone the longest continuous course of electric shock treatment for depression.

Since 1989 the unnamed patient has received more than 430 treatments, in which a pulse of electricity is passed through her brain, triggering convulsions. For the first four years she had treatment twice a week but it was then cut to once a fortnight.

The regular shocks were effective in warding off her despair, which was accompanied by feelings of guilt, and did not cause progressive mental damage, as doctors had feared. The depression returned when the shocks were administered less than once a fortnight.

The woman had been treated for depression from the age of 43 with regular stays in hospital. Before the course of treatment began she had spent most of the previous five years in hospital. Since 1989, she has lived in a residential home and has been virtually free of symptoms. She is now 74, and understands fully the nature of her treatment.

Electric shock treatment, also known as electro-convulsive therapy, has a controversial history and was once described as barbaric. Today it is widely accepted by psychiatrists as a last-resort treatment for severe depression, although concern remains about its long-term effect on intellectual function.

The case is described by David Anderson, consultant psychogeriatrician at Rathbone Hospital, Liverpool, in the Journal of the Royal College of Psychiatrists .