John Wattie
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Patient on why he 'needs' ECT treatment

Sixty-four-year-old John Wattie has suffered from severe depression since the late 1990s. He likens the feeling to being in a hole, a hole he could not get out of despite courses of pills and talking therapies.

But now, he says, all of that has changed thanks to what is one of the least understood treatments in psychiatry - electroconvulsive therapy, also known as ECT.

The idea of treating a psychiatric illness by passing a jolt of electricity through the brain was one of the most controversial in 20th Century medicine.

It started out as an experiment in the 1930s after psychiatrists noticed some heavily distressed patients would suddenly improve after an epileptic fit. Passing a strong electric current through the brain could trigger a similar seizure and - they hoped - a similar response.

By the 1960s it was being widely used to treat a variety of conditions, notably severe depression. But as the old mental asylums closed down and aggressive physical interventions like lobotomies fell out of favour, so too did electroshock treatment, as ECT was previously known.

But for a group of the most severely depressed patients, ECT has remained one of the last options on the table when other therapies have failed.

Annually in the UK around 4,000 patients, of which John is one, still undergo ECT. Here he talks to BBC Newsnight's Jim Reed about his feelings of depression and why he feels the need for repeated ECT.

Watch Jim Reed's full report on electroconvulsive therapy, including exclusive footage of the procedure being administered, on Newsnight at 10.30pm on Wednesday 24 July 2013 on BBC Two, and afterwards on the BBC iPlayer and Newsnight website.

  • 24 Jul 2013
  • From the section Health
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