Friday, January 27, 2012

Dr. Oz and His "Controversial" ECT Show

At the beginning of this week, a few thoughtful people alerted me to the fact that, on Wednesday of this week, Dr. Oz was doing a show about Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT). I was pretty excited, because Dr. Oz is about as mainstream as it gets, and to have ECT discussed on a mainstream show like that could be really helpful for a lot of people.

I think he did a pretty good job of talking about ECT in general; he had a couple of doctors (notably Dr. Keith Ablow, who used to have his own show, and is a fixture on "Fox and Friends"...hmmm), and also spoke to a few people who have had ECT. One, Julie Hersh (she writes about her experience with Dr. Oz here), is an author of the book Struck by Living: From Depression to Hope and also is a public advocate and speaker about mental health. The other patient Dr. Oz spoke to, Susan, was a "normal" person (i.e., no book, no speaking engagements, no websites -- just a woman who has had ECT treatments). He actually got her permission to film her having an ECT treatment, and showed it during the segment. You can get the videos of the segments from the show here, on Dr. Oz's website.

Dr. Oz started the show by saying it was one of the most "controversial" he'd ever done, but amusingly, there wasn't much controversial about it at all. In fact, it was kind of a glowing, enthusiastic commercial for ECT; I kind of wondered if he was getting a kickback from the ECT machine manufacturers (there was even a pretty obvious close-up of the machine in one clip). The doctors he talked to maintained that there were few, if any, side effects for most patients, that cost shouldn't be an issue for most patients because insurance usually pays for treatments, and that it was 80% effective in treating major depression, which was a much higher success rate than most antidepressants.

As he ended his discussion (which, I was disappointed to find out, only lasted half the show -- the other half was about being tired, or something), he said that he was just trying to "start a conversation" about this topic. He wanted to let people suffering from depression or other mental illnesses know that this option was available, and the treatment wasn't like what most people thought it was. I think he accomplished this.

However -- and it turns out that the National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery agrees -- I think the discussion was a little one-sided. While there was passing mention of memory loss as a potential side effect, it was pretty much glossed over as a mere annoyance. I know a lot of people have had significant memory loss as a side effect of ECT, and that side effect shouldn't be ignored. There's also the time commitment of the treatments themselves, which wasn't discussed, and the risks associated with general anesthesia that are always present. And then, of course, there's the risk of spending a ton of time and money on treatments and having them not work, or work only as well as medication does. In addition, in their response to the show, the National Mental Health Coalition said that the claims of 80% effectiveness were "'vastly exaggerated.'"

It's kind of an interesting coincidence that this show aired this week, because this is the first time in six weeks I have not had an ECT treatment. And you know what? I've kind of had a shitty week. I've been up and down, but it seems like mostly down. And I've been extremely irritable and prone to angry outbursts. Perhaps the most concerning change that I've noticed this week was that my urge to self-injure has returned. It was almost like magic when I started ECT that my desire to cut just disappeared, and it pretty much stayed gone...until I stopped treatment.

I don't know what this means. Does it mean that I have to have ECT treatments the rest of my life? I was under the impression that ECT helped on a more permanent basis; it wasn't just effective right around the time I would be having treatments. But maybe I was wrong, I don't know. I know it's concerning. And I also know that no matter what Dr. Oz says, or how safe and wonderful a treatment it's supposed to be, it still kind of terrifies me, and I don't really want to do any more treatments any time soon if I don't have to.

Did anyone else see the show? Any thoughts?

1 comment:

  1. ECT is dangerous. It destroyed my life. I always have had impulse control problems along with depression, bipolar and suicidal ideation. Well ECT made my impulse control problems come to an all time high. I couldn't control myself to save my life. Also, my memory was shot. My ability to problem solve and make decisions has been made worse by ECT. ECT even for depression only lasts like 4 to 6 months. The effect is not a permanent fix. Risking brain damage and memory loss for a short term fix is not worth it. The only people I see it useful for are people that are catatonic or completley dellusional. I would never tell anyone to get this done. It was the worst mistake I ever made. Trusting a doctor ended with me being worse off then ever. I will never be the same after ECT.