Two recent studies may have discovered how electroconvulsive therapy and its close cousin, magnetic seizure therapy, are so effective at alleviating some mental illnesses, especially severe depression – something that has puzzled psychiatrists and neuroscientists for decades.
Yes, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), or 'shock therapy', which induces a brief seizure in the brain using controlled doses of electricity, is still being used. Despite, these days, being performed in a way that’s very different to the scene in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, probably the most (in)famous depiction of ECT, the treatment still carries a stigma.
It may have a bad reputation, but there’s no denying ECT’s effectiveness in treating some mental illnesses, especially severe depression, where around 80% of patients will experience substantial improvement. However, something that’s stumped psychiatrists and neuroscientists is precisely how the treatment alleviates mental illness. Now, two studies by researchers at UC San Diego may have provided an answer.
“A lot of people are surprised to learn that we still use electroconvulsive therapy, but the modern procedure uses highly controlled dosages of electricity and is done under anesthesia,” said Sydney Smith, lead and corresponding author of both studies. “It really doesn’t look like what you see in movies or [on] television.”