Patient groups criticize federal report on shock therapy

Wednesday October 6 7:04 PM ET
By Michelle Beaulieu

NEW YORK, Oct 06 (Reuters Health) -- Preliminary information from the US Surgeon General's Report on Mental Health, due to be released in December, has evoked a critical response from consumer advocates who claim that the report offers a "sugar-coated" description of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), a controversial treatment for depression.

"I think this report would go a long way in making (ECT) more respectable than it currently is," Joseph A. Rogers, executive director of the advocacy group The Mental Health Association, told Reuters Health.

The Mental Health Association claims that much of the data in the report comes from studies conducted by ECT advocates, such as Dr. Richard Weiner, head of the American Psychiatric Association's task force on ECT.

According to the association statement, those who prepared the draft version of the Surgeon General's report claim that ECT "is considered safe and clinically effective."

But in an interview with Reuters Health, Rogers said that neither claim is true. There is some strong indication that ECT is just not that effective," he said. He called ECT a "quick cure," adding that its effects are typically short-lasting.

In addition, "the science shows very clearly that ECT has some very serious side effects," Rogers said. These can include cardiovascular complications, prolonged memory loss, brain damage and even death, according to the association statement.

Based on his communications with the Surgeon General's office, Rogers believes that the office "had not paid that much attention to the report," until now, but "I think they're having some very strong second looks at the situation."

Rogers added that The Mental Health Association hopes that one result of the current controversy will be to educate consumers about the risks and benefits of ECT. Additionally, the group wants physicians "to get a little more honest with their patients, particularly in the area of informed consent," he said.

The Office of the Surgeon General declined to respond to the consumer group's claims.