Thousands of women with mental health problems in England received ‘dangerous’ electric shocks to the brain

Thousands of women in England with Psychological health Problems are treated with electroconvulsive therapy despite concerns that the treatment could cause irreversible brain damage.

NHS The data he sees independent It reveals the disproportionate amount of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) prescribed to women, who make up two-thirds of patients receiving treatment.

Health professionals have warned that the treatment can cause brain damage, so acute recipients cannot recognize family and friends or perform basic arithmetic.

While some patients say the treatment has helped them deeply, leading mental charities have labeled it “harmful” and “outdated” and have called for its use to be halted pending urgent review or banned altogether.

Statistics obtained through Freedom of Information requests by Dr John Reed, a professor at the University of East London and a leading expert in ECT showed that 67 per cent of the 1964 patients treated in 2019 were female.

His research found that ECT was given twice as much women as men in 20 NHS institutions in the UK. The trusts also said that about 36 percent of their patients in 2019 underwent electroconvulsive therapy without consent.

The NHS can only provide statistics on whether ECT is successful in 16 per cent of trusts, while only 3 per cent of trusts have mechanisms in place to monitor for side effects. A review of ECT clinics by Dr Reed and colleagues found that around 2,500 patients undergo ECT in England each year, with people over the age of 60 making up 58 per cent.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), Which makes recommendations guiding treatment decisions in the NHS, said its guidelines state that clinicians “should consider ECT only for the acute treatment of severe, life-threatening depression and when a rapid response is required, or when other treatments have failed”.

The spokesperson added that patients should be fully aware of the risks associated with electrocution and that the decision to deploy treatment “should be made with the depressed person as closely as possible”.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists said ECT “can have side effects” but noted that “most people who get ECT see an improvement in their symptoms”.

However, Dr. Reed claimed that the NICE guidelines are routinely ignored. His study found that many NHS trusts admitted giving patients ECT without first offering them treatments such as counseling or Cognitive behavioral therapy.



I couldn’t remember the names of the people. I was crossing a sentence and forgetting the word house. I lost vocabulary. I couldn’t remember my children’s birthdays. Lose all your memories from years ago

Sue Cunliffe

The academic, who has worked as a clinical psychologist for nearly 20 years, also argued that the guidelines are “too weak” because they fail to articulate the specific risks that patients should be told about.

“They also don’t make clear the fact that ECT is hardly better than a placebo,” he added. We bombarded Nice with research that showed ECT is unsafe in terms of causing brain damage and memory loss. They just ignored our correspondence.”

Dr. Reed said that in every country where research has been conducted, ECT is used on women twice as often as men. He noted that most UK psychiatrists would not use ECT on patients, but suggested that they would speak out against colleagues who do.

Dr. Reed said the most recent study of effectiveness was conducted in 1985 and argued that previous research had shown very little evidence of its positive effects.

One of the main negative effects is memory loss. Studies have found that between 12 and 55 percent of people experience permanent or long-term brain damage that leads to memory loss.”

“We also know that women and the elderly who are the target groups are paradoxically more likely to have memory loss than the others. They should be the groups that get lower because of the risks.”

said Sue Cunliffe, who started ECT in 2004 independent It completely “ruined” her life even though a psychiatrist told her there would be no long-term side effects.

The former pediatrician, 55, was referred to a psychiatrist after struggling with depression after issues with her ex-husband, whom she was married to for two decades.

Dr. Cunliffe underwent two cycles of ECT, which included 21 sessions, each session under general anesthesia in the hospital. She said she suffered from “horrific” amnesia throughout the treatment.

(Sue Cunliffe)

“By the end of it, I couldn’t recognize relatives or friends,” she said. “I couldn’t count the money. I couldn’t make my hitting table. I couldn’t move anywhere. I couldn’t remember what I was doing from minute to minute.

I couldn’t remember the names of the people. I was crossing a sentence and forgetting the word house. I lost vocabulary. I couldn’t remember my children’s birthdays. You lose all your memories from years ago.”

Peter McCabe, chief executive of the Brain Injury Association, Headway, said he was “interested in reports from patients experiencing neurological difficulties after ECT” and called for more research and an urgent review.

He added, “We are aware of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ assertion that ‘rigorous scientific research has not found any evidence of physical brain damage in patients who have undergone electroconvulsive therapy.’ However, it also accepts further research on the long-term effects of this treatment.”

Stephen Buckley, a mental health spokesperson for Mind . said: independent The charity has backed calls for a “comprehensive review of the use of electroconvulsive therapy”, which it described as a “risky physical therapy”.

Alexa Knight, associate director of policy and practice at the charity Rethink Mental Illness, emphasized that approval for ECT should be sought from patients and noted that this is not currently required if the individual is treated in an emergency under the Mental Health Act.

Andy Cross, chief executive of Agenda, a charity working for women and girls at risk, has called for ECT to be banned “immediately”.

During the second course of treatment, Dr. Cunliffe said her side effects worsened with increasing doses of ECT — rising from about 460 to 700 milliliters. The maximum dose in Europe and America is 500 ml, but in Britain the dose can be increased to a maximum of 1000 ml.

She said, “What’s important and what isn’t discussed is the fact that your brain doesn’t like to fit in. Every time you step in, you need a different dose of electricity to suit you.”

“They’re still not clear about how to take the dose safely, and in fact when they give you larger doses, they don’t tell you that the treatment is getting more dangerous in terms of brain damage.”



In my view, there is never a good reason to give an animal or a human electric shocks to the brain. In another circumstance, it’s fatal – you’re not supposed to be electrocuted.

Dr. Jessica Taylor

Dr Cunliffe said health workers initially dismissed her symptoms as consequences of ECT. However, in 2007, an NHS neuropsychologist diagnosed her with decreased brain functioning due to ECT, she said.

By that time, Dr. Cunliffe was unable to use computers and had difficulties with reading, and the problems persisted for years after ECT prevented her from working.

“I have forgotten vast swathes of my medical knowledge,” she added. “It was very sad. It has been 17 years since I finished treatment and made a lot of improvements. But I am very tired and left with the long-term effects of brain damage.”

Dr. Concliffe said she sometimes worked more than 100 hours a week but now struggles during three-hour volunteer work shifts at a community café.

She said, “I’ve regained a lot of my wits but what happens is your mind gets tired a lot. It limits my independence, and I wouldn’t dare drive a long trip – I’m so tired. Because I’m really tired, I have help at home.”

“I know I’m not the only one who lost his job after ECT. I know another doctor who lost his job, a guy who lost his job as a manager in a nursing home, and someone in my bank who lost his job.”

Dr Cunliffe, who is campaigning for an investigation into how ECT is being used in the UK, argued psychiatrists had “underestimated” side effects and failed to properly warn patients.

She noted that manufacturers have a list of warnings that ECT can cause brain damage written in the device manual, and explicitly urged all health professionals to inform patients of side effects. It claimed that health workers do not properly seek consent for ECT patients or adequately monitor them while they are undergoing treatment.

Dr. Cunliffe added: “I used to have an Apple Mac brain that could process massive amounts of information. Now an old computer is shut down.”

Jessica Taylor, a prominent psychologist exploring electroconvulsive therapy in her new book sexy but psychologicalHe called for the “dangerous and barbaric practice” of electroconvulsive therapy to be banned in the UK immediately.

Dr. Taylor, who specializes in gynecology in mental health settings, said she has met dozens of people who have undergone ECT, including a few women who say they have suffered brain damage as a result.

She experienced ECT when she was previously working in frontline services helping teenage girls and women rapeShe said.

“They were given several rounds of ECT because the services and professionals around them thought they were resistant to treatment,” added Dr. Taylor, who founded Victim Focus, an organization that discriminates against victims of abuse.

The psychiatrist gave the example of a 15-year-old girl who was referred for electroconvulsive therapy less than a year after she was raped.

Dr Taylor said: “I was amazed that anyone in the world had had ECT, let alone a teenage girl in the UK. In general, when we talk about ECT, the public assumes it is taboo. When people think of ECT they think of ECT. Horror movies like Shutter Island.

“In my view, there is never a good reason to give an animal or a human electric shocks to the brain. In another circumstance, it would be fatal – you shouldn’t be electrocuted.”

She said health professionals fail to properly explain the harm ECT can cause, and claimed that psychiatrists sometimes “have a divine complex.”

“They’re on an energy journey,” Dr. Taylor added. “They often say things that suggest that ‘mental health is the same as physical health and you need to treat it as a disease.’ They have a really medical understanding of humans and trauma – they see it as a disease, and they see ECT as a treatment.”

She cited misogyny as the reason women were disproportionately given ECT and that women over the age of 60 were more likely to receive treatment.

“This is a group of women that we often overlook in society,” Dr. Taylor said. “It made me wonder is this part of menopausal women being seen as crazy. Then there’s the whole stereotype of being an older woman, it’s invisible, it’s not going to shut up, it’s a problem with our services. And there’s nothing anyone can do for her.” So give her ECT.”