December 17, 1999|
"Unscientific" Surgeon General's Report Misrepresents Research, Minimizes Risks of Electroshock, Say Advocates
"Unscientific" Surgeon General's Report Misrepresents Research, Minimizes Risks of Electroshock, Say Advocates. Surgeon General David Satcher's Report on Mental Health, released December 13, is said to be a rigorously science-based document, yet at its center was a political struggle between patients who have been harmed by mental health treatment and doctors with a vested interest in promoting it.
Representatives of the New York City«based Committee for Truth in Psychiatry (CTIP), an organization made up entirely of former electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) patients, saw a draft of the ECT section (Chapter 4, "Treatment of Mood Disorders") and were outraged that the treatment was called "safe and effective." All members of the group have permanent and often severe memory loss due to ECT, and many suffer permanent cognitive effects they say indicate ECT causes brain damage.
CTIP Director Linda Andre and concerned patient advocates from the National Mental Health Association and the National Mental Health Consumers Self-Help Clearinghouse called a meeting at National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) with the head of the ECT panel. Andre asked to work with the panel in redrafting the ECT section, and her request was supported by hundreds of petitions from ex-patients and concerned citizens around the country. Instead, NIMH redrafted the ECT section in secret. The result, say advocates, is somewhat improved in that it acknowledges and warns of the risk of permanent memory loss. But it downplays what is known about the nature and frequency of that and other serious risks, and ignores much of the scientific literature in favor of a few, very recent, and highly selective articles, many done by persons who profit from it. A frequently referenced author ď ECT promoter Matthew Rudorfer ď was himself a drafter of the report.
Truthful information about ECT would have added a sobering note to the "Let's all get treatment" tone of the report, which is why patients were not allowed input into the ECT section, says Ms. Andre. "Anyone who believes the Surgeon General's report is a scientific document has no idea of the political struggle that went into it," she adds, a struggle which nobody won.
Countering claims that the report is "the best available science," advocates point out:
There are 15 citations to articles by men with known financial ties to ECT machine companies."The overarching message of the report is that there is no downside to mental health treatment," says the CTIP Director. "When it comes to ECT, that's just a big lie."