New Study Shows High Number of Suicides After Electroshock

Electroshock and antidepressants carry the risk of driving people to commit suicide: Patients sold on the fraudulent idea that the treatments correct a ‘chemical imbalance’ or faulty chemical messengers in the brain become hopeless when those treatments fail them and go on to make fatal decisions about their lives. – Jan Eastgate, President CCHR International

In another psychiatric treatment failure, a new study shows electroshock fails to prevent suicide, with over 800 deaths within a year in those receiving it. As with patients prescribed antidepressants, those receiving electroshock have been misled that electroshock corrects imbalanced brain chemicals.

By Jan Eastgate
President CCHR International
August 5, 2022

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry reinforces that electroshock treatment (also known as electroconvulsive therapy or ECT), given to at least 100,000 Americans a year, including children, does not decrease the risk of death by suicide, contrary to its proponents’ claims.[1] The study showed an astounding rate of suicide death for those who received ECT: 137.34 deaths per 10,000 within 30 days of receiving it and 804.39 per 10,000 within a year following ECT.[2]

Shock therapy is often recommended after antidepressants have failed. Both treatments have been misleadingly marketed as correcting chemicals or chemical messages in the brain that cause depression.[3] That myth was debunked by researchers from the University College London, who reviewed 17 major studies published over several decades and found no convincing evidence to support the theory that a chemical imbalance causes mental disorder.[4]

The fact that these treatments do not prevent suicide is yet another reason why they should never be forced on patients—a practice that the United Nations Committee on Torture has equated to torture.[5] Consumers should never be told that ECT or antidepressants are “life-saving,” as it can also dissuade them from seeking safer, workable solutions.

The chemical imbalance marketing scam fueled antidepressant sales. Research then showed SSRI antidepressants aren’t “effective” for at least 29% to 46% of those taking them.[6]

The psychiatric-pharmaceutical industry-invented theory and marketing scam seem to have been expanded to the use of ECT and that can put people at risk of receiving a treatment that could prove fatal.

In the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry study published in April 2022, Bradley V. Watts, MD, MPH, of the department of psychiatry at Geisel Medical School at Dartmouth College, and colleagues, espoused the importance of their electroshock research because “Early studies of the impact of ECT on suicide deaths were conducted in an era during which effective psychotropic medication was limited or inaccessible to most patients.” Therefore, “they are difficult to extrapolate to contemporary cohorts of patients” and, as such current “effective” drugs.[7]

“Newer” Antidepressants Ineffective

But the newer psychotropic drugs have now been discredited as being more “effective” than older ones.[8] In an interview with WebMD, psychiatrist Joanna Moncrieff stated, “The bottom line is that we really don’t have any good evidence that these drugs work.”[9] In a 2018 study published in BJPsych Bulletin, Dr. Moncrief further stated: “Patients should be informed that there is no evidence that antidepressants work by correcting a chemical imbalance, that antidepressants have mind-altering effects, and that evidence suggests they produce no noticeable benefit compared with placebo.”[10]

A 2016 study revealed that antidepressants double the risk of harm related to suicide and violence in healthy adults. This means that, according to the analysis, one person is harmed for every 16 persons treated with the drugs. The study authors considered it likely that antidepressants increase suicides at all ages.[11] According to research published in 2019 in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, adults who start treatment with antidepressants for depression are 2.5 times more likely to attempt suicide compared to placebo. The study found that approximately 1 in every 200 people who start treatment will attempt suicide due to the pharmacologic effects of the drug.[12] The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also issued a black box warning of suicidal effects in those taking antidepressants up to the age of 24, but the research shows the risk is possible for all age groups.

In 2002, the manufacturer of one of the top-selling SSRI antidepressants was forced to admit that the drug causes severe withdrawal symptoms when stopped. The FDA published a product advised that patients be warned not to stop taking their antidepressants suddenly.[13] Taking SSRIs can also cause a serious condition called serotonin syndrome, in which dangerously high levels of the chemical are present and can cause irritability, agitation, confusion, hallucinations, rigid muscles, tremors, and seizures.[14]

Withdrawal from any prescription psychotropic drug should only be done with medical approval and under medical supervision. A BMJ journal paper advises doctors to taper the dose at the end of treatment, while keeping a close watch for withdrawal symptoms.[15]

The electroshock study utilized electronic medical record data from the Department of Veterans Affairs health system between 2000 and 2017 to include 5,157 index courses of ECT therapy, along with 10,097 matched controls who did not receive ECT. Index ECT usually refers to the initial phase of treatment in hospital to induce maximum response. The typical number of treatments is 6–12.[16]

The study found the risk of suicide death was similar in patients treated with an index course ECT and in a matched group who were not given ECT.[17] In the cohort, suicide deaths were: 138.65 per 10,000 in 30 days and 564.52 per 10,000 in 1 year. “ECT does not appear to have a greater effect on decreasing the risk for suicide than other types of mental health treatment provided to patients with similar risk,” Watts and colleagues wrote. [18]

So, neither prevent suicide, and, extrapolated from this, could, in fact, precipitate suicide.

In a September 2020 study also conducted by Watts, VA hospital data was reviewed from between 2006 and 2015, with similar conclusions.[19] The findings, which were published in the Journal of ECT, showed 14,810 ECT patients were 5.8 times more likely to have killed themselves in the year after ECT than the 58,369 controls.  The researchers established there was no evidence that an ECT course decreased the risk of death by suicide.[20]

Assertions by psychiatric organizations such as the American Psychiatric Association that ECT and antidepressants are “life-saving treatment” and correct unbalanced chemicals or chemical messages in the brain, is so misleading that it could constitute consumer fraud.”

Between Tricare and Veteran Affairs, the Department of Defense (DoD) spent more than $70 million dollars on electroshock treatment between 2010 and 2019. During this same period, there was a 46% increase in the number of veterans that were given ECT.[21]

To opponents of electroshock, the studies reinforce why there remains extreme criticism about the way in which the FDA addressed the classification of ECT devices between 2009 and 2018. FDA lowered the device from a high-risk classification III to the lower risk classification II to make it easier for deliver it to certain patients, including those aged 13 and older who are “treatment-resistant” [22]—in other words, antidepressants or other drugs failed them.

APA requested that FDA broaden the clearance for using ECT on children, stating, “Having access to a rapid and effective treatment such as ECT is especially meaningful in children and adolescents….”[23]

Martha Rosenberg, writing for The Epoch Times in July 2022 spoke to siblings of a family whose loved one took her own life soon after being “talked into taking ECT.” They blame the suicide on the treatment. Another woman using the pseudonym Jill was hospitalized with “treatment-resistant depression” and said the memory loss from her ECT treatment was so severe that she “did not remember having it or consenting to it until I opened the file with the paperwork from the hospital.” Jill couldn’t even remember the name of the doctor who recommended it. After five years, memories of much of her life are gone and unretrievable, Rosenberg reported.[24]

FDA Ignores Electroshock Causes Death

In what many say was a biased FDA Federal Rule on ECT devices issued on December 26th 2018, the agency disregarded that ECT is linked to death, including suicide. In fact, it so minimized the risks overall as to warrant a federal investigation into how it failed to do its job to protect the U.S. public from harm from the ECT devices and whether its priority had been to protect vested interest groups wanting to keep the devices on the market.

In the Final Rule, FDA acknowledged that the individuals for whom ECT may be prescribed are “at significant risk for complications including death”—but dismissed this as being due to “their underlying conditions.”[25] “Mental illness”—which cannot be tested for or confirmed under a microscope—“killed” the patients, not the 460 volts of electricity sent surging through their body causing a grand mal seizure and physical damage.

FDA also cited a 1986 retrospective study of 1,494 psychiatric subjects followed for 5 to 7 years following hospitalization for a psychiatric condition. The researchers found 76 deaths in this group of patients with 16 of the deaths being by suicide. But it reported: “In this group, ECT was not protective but also did not increase the risk for death.”[26]

This is but one example of where the public was misled. In a January 2011 FDA public hearing into ECT held by an advisory panel, at which CCHR members and shock survivors testified, FDA went to great lengths to disallow reference to studies published prior to 1979 that CCHR and others pointed to as proving that ECT causes brain damage. They asserted that the technology used at that time couldn’t substantiate brain-damaging effects.

In citing the same 1986 study as referenced above, FDA failed to mention that the study period was 1965-72. More importantly, those 76 deaths, of which 16 were suicide, translates to 21% killed themselves! Three statistics from that study showed that 44% of the patients who committed suicide had been treated with ECT during the index hospital admission, compared to 32% of patients who received ECT but died from causes other than suicide.[27]

While the researchers and FDA claimed the differences were not statistically significant—so presumably could be ignored—there was no discussion about how ECT may have precipitated the suicides.

That study’s purpose had been to examine whether or not ECT protects against suicide death. It doesn’t. Findings spelled out:

  • Patients who committed suicide were more apt to have received ECT than those who died from other causes.
  • Some 5.1% of the total sample had died by the time of follow-up, and of these, 21% (16 patients) were the result of suicide.
  • These findings, combined with a close examination of the literature, do not support the commonly held belief that ECT exerts long-range protective effects against suicide.[28]

John Read, Ph.D., from the School of Psychology, University of East London and Professor Irving Kirsch of Harvard Medical further substantiated that electroshock is not a life-saving treatment. Prof. Read, writing in Psychology Today on June 15th 2021, noted that in their 2019 review of the ECT research literature, they found “no convincing evidence that ECT outperforms placebo in the short-term and no evidence at all that it has any long-term benefits or prevents suicide.” [29]

Read went further: “Given the well-documented high risk of persistent memory dysfunction, the cost-benefit analysis for ECT remains so poor that its use cannot be scientifically, or ethically, justified.”[30]

FDA was unconcerned that electroshock can be forced upon Americans. Rather, it claimed involuntary ECT is “uncommon” and only done with a judiciary approval. This was patently false.  Including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, there are 33 geographical jurisdictions where the state laws and administrative codes do not even comment on the use of ECT, let alone provide judiciary determinations.[31]

The Torture of Americans

In fact, FDA hasn’t a clue how many Americans are electroshocked without their consent in violation of the UN Convention Against Torture, which the U.S. has ratified in domestic law. Nor does it know how many individuals ECT has failed to prevent from killing themselves or directly influenced their decision to commit suicide.

However, FDA was quick to approve another shock device for the American market.

In 2021, MECTA, the manufacturer of the SpECTrum shock device filed for bankruptcy after a spate of lawsuits against it led to its losing its products liability insurance and on September 1st that year, it discontinued manufacturing and servicing the device.[32] But MECTA was in the FDA’s good hands.

The lawsuits were going through the courts in 2018-19 and on October 2nd 2019—10 months after the FDA’s controversial and contested Final Rule on ECT devices—the FDA received a pre-market application from MECTA for a new ECT device called ∑igma™ (pronounced Sigma), which was quickly approved as a Class II device on April 26th, 2020.[33]

MECTA says the ∑igma is different to the SpECTtrum and is “the most advanced ECT device ever produced.”[34] It is astonishing how quickly the company could develop an innovative new device but never had the finances to conduct clinical trials to prove the SpECTrum device, and, now the ∑igma, are safe and effective.

Meanwhile, the tragic expectation is that more patients will commit suicide after receiving electroshock. Psychiatrists and the FDA will blame this on their “illness” rather than failed treatment. And the death roll will rise.

Legislators may be unaware of the facts unless people act: Sign the Petition to Ban Electroshock.

As a recap: antidepressants do not prevent suicide. When they don’t “work,” then electroshock is recommended, but this, too, doesn’t prevent suicide. Neither are “life-saving.” ECT causes irreversible damage, including long-term memory loss and brain damage.

In fact, electroshock and antidepressants carry the risk of driving people to commit suicide: Patients sold on the fraudulent idea that the treatments correct a “chemical imbalance” or faulty chemical messengers in the brain become hopeless when those treatments fail them and go on to make fatal decisions about their lives.

There needs to be accountability for false claims made in defense of these treatments—better still, take them off the market when their risks are so high. Consumer fraud litigation should ensue in addition to any personal injury claims.

Vulnerable patients seeking mental health care deserve much, much better. Non-harmful practices should be made available to them.

References:

[1] Bradley V. Watts, MD, MPH, Talya Peltzman, MPH, and Brian Shiner, MD, MPH, “Electroconvulsive Therapy and Death by Suicide,” Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, Apr. 2022, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35421285/

[2] “ECT did not decrease risk for death by suicide compared with other mental health care,” Helio, 20 Jul. 2022, https://www.healio.com/news/psychiatry/20220720/ect-did-not-decrease-risk-for-death-by-suicide-compared-with-other-mental-health-care

[3] https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/psychiatry/specialty_areas/brain_stimulation/ect/faq_ect.html

[4] https://www.cchrint.org/2022/07/22/cchr-lauds-study-disproving-chemical-imbalance-causes-depression/; Joanna Moncrieff, Ruth E. Cooper, Tom Stockmann, Simone Amendola, Michael P. Hengartner and Mark A. Horowitz, “The serotonin theory of depression: a systematic umbrella review of the evidence,” Molecular Psychiatry, 20 July 2022, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41380-022-01661-0

[5] Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan E. Méndez; Human Rights Council Twenty-second session; Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development; 1 Feb. 2013

[6] James G. Barbee, MD, “Treatment-Resistant Depression—Management Strategies,” Psychiatric Times, Vol. 26, No. 8, 27 July 2009

[7] “ECT did not decrease risk for death by suicide compared with other mental health care,” Helio, 20 Jul. 2022, https://www.healio.com/news/psychiatry/20220720/ect-did-not-decrease-risk-for-death-by-suicide-compared-with-other-mental-health-care

[8] Norman Nicholas, Robert Adams, “Do Newer Antidepressant Drugs Really Have Reduced Side Effects? Examining a Random ‘Real World’ Sample of 300+ Receivers of Medications,” Gordon University, Scotland, Journal of Psychology & the Behavioral Sciences, Vol 6, Issue 1, 2016, https://iafor.org/journal/iafor-journal-of-psychology-and-the-behavioral-sciences/volume-6-issue-1/article-5/

[9] Salynn Boyles, “Battle Brews Over Antidepressant Use,” Fox News channel, 15 June 2005.

[10] Joanne Moncrieff, “Against the stream: Antidepressants are not antidepressants – an alternative approach to drug action and implications for the use of antidepressants,” BJ Psych Bulletin, Feb. 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6001865/

[11] https://www.cchrint.org/2016/10/19/antidepressants-double-suicide-violence/, Andreas Ø Bielefeldt, et al., “Precursors to suicidality and violence on antidepressants: systematic review of trials in adult healthy volunteers,” Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, Oct. 2016, Vol. 109, No. 10, p. 381, http://jrs.sagepub.com/content/109/10/381.full.

[12] “New study: antidepressants significantly raise the risk of suicide in the treatment of depression for adults,” Council for Evidence-Based Psychiatry, 25 June 2019, http://cepuk.org/2019/06/25/new-study-antidepressants-significantly-raise-risk-suicide-treatment-depression-adults/

[13] Alison Tonks, “Withdrawal from paroxetine can be severe, warns FDA,” BMJ, 2 Feb. 2002, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1122195/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1122195/

[14] “Escitalopram, oral tablet,” Medical News Today, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/escitalopram-oral-tablet

[15] Alison Tonks, “Withdrawal from paroxetine can be severe, warns FDA,” BMJ, 2 Feb. 2002, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1122195/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1122195/

[16] https://www.medscape.com/answers/1525957-198808/what-is-index-electroconvulsive-therapy-ect

[17] Bradley V. Watts, MD, MPH, Talya Peltzman, MPHb; and Brian Shiner, MD, MPH, “Electroconvulsive Therapy and Death by Suicide,” Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, https://www.psychiatrist.com/jcp/depression/electroconvulsive-therapy/electroconvulsive-therapy-death-suicide/; “ECT did not decrease risk for death by suicide compared with other mental health care,” Helio, 20 Jul. 2022, https://www.healio.com/news/psychiatry/20220720/ect-did-not-decrease-risk-for-death-by-suicide-compared-with-other-mental-health-care

[18] Ibid

[19] Talya Peltzman, Brian Shiner, Bradley V Watts, “Effects of Electroconvulsive Therapy on Short-Term Suicide Mortality in a Risk-Matched Patient Population,” J ECT, 2020 Sep;36(3):187-192, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32205732/

[20] Talya Peltzman, Brian Shiner, Bradley V Watts, “Effects of Electroconvulsive Therapy on Short-Term Suicide Mortality in a Risk-Matched Patient Population,” J ECT, 2020 Sep;36(3):187-192, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32205732/

[21] https://www.cchrint.org/2021/05/25/cchr-supports-veterans-against-electroshock-dod-spends-70m-on-shocking-minds/

[22] https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/12/26/2018-27809/neurological-devices-reclassification-of-electroconvulsive-therapy-devices-effective-date-of

[23] https://www.cchrint.org/10-facts-about-electroconvulsivetherapy/, citing: Letter to Robert M. Califf, M.D., Commissioner, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, from the American Psychiatric Association, March 10, 2016, https://psychiatry.org/File%20Library/Psychiatrists/Advocacy/Federal/APA-FDA-ECT-reclassification-comments-03102016.pdf

[24] Martha Rosenberg, “Is Electroconvulsive Therapy Getting a New Image?” The Epoch Times, 13 July 2022, https://www.theepochtimes.com/is-electroconvulsive-therapy-getting-a-new-image_4572823.html

[25] https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/12/26/2018-27809/neurological-devices-reclassification-of-electroconvulsive-therapy-devices-effective-date-of

[26] https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/12/26/2018-27809/neurological-devices-reclassification-of-electroconvulsive-therapy-devices-effective-date-of

[27] Milstein, V., et al., “Does Electroconvulsive Therapy Prevent Suicide?” Convulsion Therapy, 1986. 2(1): pp. 3-6, https://www.healthyplace.com/depression/articles/does-electroconvulsive-therapy-prevent-suicide

[28] Milstein, V., et al., “Does Electroconvulsive Therapy Prevent Suicide?” Convulsion Therapy, 1986. 2(1): pp. 3-6, https://www.healthyplace.com/depression/articles/does-electroconvulsive-therapy-prevent-suicide

[29] Prof. John Read, “Patients Are Being Misinformed About Electroconvulsive Therapy,” Psychology Today. 15 June 2021, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/psychiatry-through-the-looking-glass/202106/patients-are-being-misinformed-about

[30] 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

[31] https://truthaboutect.org/mecta-electroshock-device-manufacturer-files-for-bankruptcy/, citing: Victoria Harris, MD, MPH, “Electroconvulsive Therapy: Administrative Codes, Legislation, and Professional Recommendations,” J Am Acad Psychiatry Law, 34:406 –11, 2006, http://www.jaapl.org/content/34/3/406.full.pdf

[32] https://truthaboutect.org/mecta-electroshock-device-manufacturer-files-for-bankruptcy/, citing: In the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware, Declaration of Adrian Kettering in Support of Chapter 11 Petitions and First Day Pleadings, Case No. 21-11279 (JKS), 30 Sept. 2021, https://new.reorg-research.com/data/firstday/885087_0.pdf

[33] https://fda.report/PMN/K192834

[34] https://reorg.com/mecta-corp-first-day-declaration/; https://mectacorp.com/products/sigma/