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Teens Given Electroshock Treatment Showed Few Bad Effects

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"I have had inpatients who were fiercely, fiercely ill, who were less than 20 years old, for whom ECT was necessary and who were helped by it," says Bodkin. "You cannot parent someone out of the need for ECT."

"This is the first good study that shows ECT in adolescents does not cause long-term memory problems," says Martin Szuba, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the ECT program for the university's health system.

"ECT is grossly underutilized in adolescents," Szuba says. "Whether we like it or not, adolescents do develop severe depression and they do kill themselves, and there should be another treatment to offer them" beyond medications. "ECT can save lives."

Another physician had a more tepid response to the study. "They say that two out of 10 had [memory] complaints. ... That's about what you would expect in adults," says Mitchell S. Nobler, an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. "They are trying to say that it is safe because they did not find impairment [of their memories and thinking]."

But Nobler says that he would have preferred testing aimed at their recall prior to the ECT, which is more commonly impaired after ECT. He also feels that the researchers relied on the adolescents' recollection, which is not always reliable.

Cohen does make an important point, however. "In the article, we did not include the school evaluation we did, because of space, but the ECT and non-ECT groups had the same school evaluations. So they were able to continue their educations [after the treatment]."

Vital Information:

  • Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), giving electrical shocks to the brain, is a quick and effective way to treat patients with severe depression who do not respond to medications.
  • Adolescents who undergo the procedure do not experience any long-term memory loss or brain damage, according to a new study from Paris.
  • Some experts say that ECT is underutilized, and several states in this country forbid the use of this therapy among adolescents.
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