Misleading Consumers About Electroshock “Side Effects,” Negating How ECT Harms Lives

People in need of help are being consistently put at risk by the treatments the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves and by researchers and practitioners in the mental health system recommending them, including antidepressants and electroshock. The misleading information given consumers should be investigated, especially when marketed as being prescribed for “treatment resistance,” a term invented to explain away treatment failure.

In a recent depression study, patients were given an anesthetic, propofol, a drug linked with abuse, accidental overdose and suicide.[1] Only 10 subjects were used to claim “success,” measured by half having maintained “better moods for three months.” In other words, the other half failed to experience this and none were cured.[2] The researchers do not know how propofol supposedly “works” for depression, but theorize it “may be triggering the brain to reorganize itself” or “coaxing the brain into getting unstuck from this bad, depressed state that it’s in.”[3]

We’ve heard of similar, unproven theories in relation to antidepressants and electroshock treatment.  Most recently The Wall Street Journal claimed that 460 volts of electricity sent searing through the brain may help to “realign disrupted circuits.”

Propofol is claimed to have fewer side effects than electroshock, which has side effects that include “confusion and memory loss,” brain damage and death.[4]

Yet the FDA and American Psychiatric Association (APA) claim the merits of electroshock over antidepressants and other mind-altering drugs, although there are no clinical trials proving ECT’s safety and efficacy.  Serious risks are often minimized.

Charles Kellner, professor of psychiatry and director of ECT services at Icahn School of Medicine, Mount Sinai service recently asserted in Psychiatric Times that adverse effects from ECT such cognitive damage isn’t a “safety” concern but, rather, a “tolerability” issue. Astoundingly he claimed that “refusing ECT because of concerns about memory loss is equivalent to refusing cancer chemotherapy because of concerns about hair loss.” His analogy is that after chemotherapy “most of the hair grows back” and with ECT, “most of the memories return.” Yet patients attest to permanent memory loss of important life events as a result of ECT—hardly a comparison to temporary hair loss.

ECT is not “life-saving” and is not proven to clinically prevent suicide. In fact, it can induce suicide:

  • A coroner’s inquest in Australia determined that involuntary ECT did not prevent but may have led to a patient’s death after a suicide attempt.[5]
  • A UK coroner investigating the death of mother of one, Katherine Rought-Rought in June 2016 found that ECT had led to a “deterioration in her mental health…culminating in her decision to commit suicide.”[6]
  • Researchers reviewed more than 90 ECT studies since 2010 and found: “There is still no evidence that ECT is more effective than placebo for depression reduction or suicide prevention.”[7]

The history of the approval and use of dangerous treatments for those labeled mentally disordered is one of abject failure. But that that is marketed not as failure, but as the patient’s “resistance” to treatment!

Dr. Allen Francis, former head of the APA’s fourth edition of its Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), admitted: “We use terms like treatment-resistance and treatment-refractory, but this is merely an admission of our failure to have a solution.”  Further, “We persist in treatment, usually by giving whatever has failed previously in more dosage or by adding new treatments that have little chance of success, but a high risk of side effects.”[8]

Claims that ECT can re-wire dysfunctional brains and have no permanent damage or risks are reported as ‘fact,’ without any scientific evidence to confirm this.  This misleads consumers into thinking ‘brain stimulation’ and drugs are correcting something ‘wrong’ in their brain when, in fact, these practices are damaging it.

CCHR urges consumers to be better informed of psychiatric treatments, warning they are often nothing more than a physical and mental health assault—a terrible betrayal for people seeking and in need of real help.

For more information on the adverse effects of psychiatric drugs, click here and sign the petition to ban ECT here.

Jan Eastgate has been a devoted patients’ rights advocate for over 40 years, helping lead the mental health watchdog Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) first in Australia and now as the president of its international headquarters in Los Angeles, U.S.A. In Australia, she helped obtained the prohibition of a lethal psychiatric practice called Deep Sleep Treatment that combined psychotropic drugs and electroshock causing 48 deaths, including suicides. The New South Wales law also banned insulin shock treatment and psychosurgery.  Her work with CCHR has resulted in dozens of government inquiries and laws being reformed to either curb abusive psychiatric practices or to speedily investigate and prosecute those committing them.


[1] https://journals.lww.com/anesthesia-analgesia/fulltext/2009/04000/Death_from_Propofol__Accident,_Suicide,_or_Murder_.24.aspx

[2] Brian Mickey et al, “Propofol for Treatment-Resistant Depression: A Pilot Study,”  Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 2018 Dec; 21(12): 1079–1089. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6276046/

[3] “‘Michael Jackson drug’ still prompts curiosity from patients,” KTXS  12 ABC News, 22 June 2019, https://ktxs.com/news/nation-world/michael-jackson-drug-still-prompts-curiosity-from-patients

[4] Ibid.

[5] “”Aisha Dow, “Grandfather forced to undergo ECT before ‘preventable’ death,” The Age, 18 Apr. 2018, https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/grandfather-forced-to-undergo-ect-before-preventable-death-20180418-p4zacy.html

[6] Dominic Gilbert, “Mental health service failure,” Eastern Daily Press, 18 Apr. 2018, https://www.edp24.co.uk/news/mental-health-failures-katherine-rought-rought-1-5480329

[7] John Read and Chelsea Arnold, “Is Electroconvulsive Therapy for Depression More Effective Than Placebo? A Systematic Review of Studies Since 2009,” Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, Volume 19, Number 1, 2017, http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/springer/ehpp/2017/00000019/00000001/art00002

[8] Allen J. Frances, M.D., “What to Do When Treatment Doesn’t Work,” Psychology Today, 29 Jul. 2016, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/saving-normal/201607/what-do-when-treatment-doesnt-work

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