"ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST" GAVE SHOCK THERAPY A BAD NAME AND KEEPS SOME DEPRESSION SUFFERERS AWAY FROM A SUCCESSFUL THERAPY, THIS SUNDAY ON "60 MINUTES"
Promising Newer Treatment Using Magnets Under Study
A great film has given a bad name to what many consider a good medical treatment. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), or "shock treatment," was portrayed in 1976's Best Picture-winning film "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" as a jarring, painful experience. But it's not done that way anymore. Today, doctors consider ECT the most effective treatment for depression when drugs don't work, which is the case 35 percent of the time. Anderson Cooper examines the treatment and a newer, gentler, experimental version of it on the next edition of 60 MINUTES, Sunday, May 13 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
Dr. Charlie Welch, of McLean Psychiatric Hospital outside Boston, believes ECT could be helping more of America's estimated five million people suffering from treatment-resistant depression. Just about 1 percent of those who might benefit from it have tried it. "Clearly, 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' gave ECT a bad name because that's not how it actually is done," he says. "What's different, first of all, is that it's done under general anesthesia with a muscle relaxant. So when the treatment is done, the patient is sound asleep and completely relaxed."
Kitty Dukakis, wife of former Mass. governor and Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, took numerous medications over 17 years before finally seeing Dr. Welch. "One would think that somehow, sometime earlier than 17 years, somebody would have said, 'Hey, go see Doctor Welch,'" Dukakis tells Cooper. She allowed 60 MINUTES cameras to tape her before, during and after one of the periodic ECT treatments that husband Michael credits with saving her life. She thinks others may be afraid to try it. "I'm convinced that - that if I can be that public, that it will help others."
One drawback of the treatment is it can cause memory loss, mostly short-term but, in rare cases, permanent. Dr. Sarah Lisanby has been trying for decades to solve that problem and has come up with a promising experimental treatment using magnets called magnetic seizure therapy. MST is similar to ECT, causing the brain to have a seizure, but the magnets are a more gentle way that can target just the parts of the brain associated with depression. A 2015 study comparing MST to ECT observed that MST patients did not experience the same memory loss ECT patients had.
Doctors are comparing the two treatments in the first large coordinated trial by the National Institute of Mental Health. It will span five years and involve more than 250 patients.
Says Dr. Lisanby, "For some people, ECT may still be needed. But if magnetic seizure therapy could be effective without the memory loss, who wouldn't want to try that first?"
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