California Figures from the Dept. of Mental Health

Despite the American Psychiatric Association's claim that only 0.5 percent (1 in 200) of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) patients suffer memory loss, statistics from California show that the actual figure is 40 times that amount. California is one of a small number of states that require reporting of ECT statistics.

It is estimated that between 100,000 and 200,000 patients undergo ECT in the United States every year. Why is it only an estimate? Because only four states (Colorado, California, Texas, Massachusetts) require reporting on ECT statistics.

The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) opposes such reporting, despite the fact that such reporting is anonymous. There is only one reason for such opposition - NAMI apparently wants to silence any revelations such reporting might reveal.

In California, statistics are gathered quarterly and maintained by the California Department of Mental Health. The following statistics are gathered: number of patients receiving treatment, their age, sex and race, number of treatments given, complications, and any "excessive treatments" (any patients receiving more than 15 treatments within a 30-day period, or anyone receiving more than 30 treatments in one year).

Complications are limited to:

a) non-fatal cardiac arrests or arrhythmias which required resuscitative efforts.
b) fractures
c) apnea persisting 20 minutes or more after initiation of treatment
d) memory loss reported by the patient extending more than 3 months following the completed course of treatment.
e) deaths which occur during or within the first 24 hours after a treatment.

The following is from California for a period of six years, 1989 through 1994. 1993 figures were unavailable. (Or you can go directly to the full statistics, directly from CDMH. If your browser does not support tables, you may email me and I'll send them to you directly in an MS Word file.)

During this period, over 12 thousand persons received ECT. Of those, 445 (3.6%) were involuntary patients. Of all persons receiving ECT during these five years in California, 364 (3%) received ECT without consent. Of those who did not consent to treatment, 287 were deemed by the state to be incapable of providing consent, and 77 were judged to have the capacity, but refused to provide consent (the treatment was forced completely against their will).

Approximately 50 percent were age 65 or older. 21 (1.7%) were under the age of 18. 68 percent of all patients were female. Slightly more than 90 percent were white, with 2.3 percent black, and 4.5 percent Hispanic. The remaining were categorized as "other" ethnic groups.

Medicaid/Medicare paid for over half of these patients' treatments, with private insurance and private pay each paying for slightly over 20 percent.

More than one-fifth of all patients had serious complications. The most often reported complication (19.7% of all patients and 93.6% of all complications) was extended memory loss. For reporting purposes, this consisted of memory loss lasting longer than three months. The second most common complication was apnea (cessation of breathing) lasting longer than 20 minutes (1.25% of all patients, and 5.9% of all complications).

Other complications included non-fatal cardiac arrest and fractures. No deaths attributed to ECT were reported in this period, but the conditions of reporting mandate that the death must occur within 24 hours of treatment.

View the full statistics