History of ECT

ElectroshockMan has been trying to cure mental problems with electric shock for hundreds of years. However, the theory behind ECT hasn’t advanced beyond that of the ancient Greeks who tried to cure mental problems using convulsive shock created by a drug called hellebore. A revival of ECT occurred in the early part of the 20th Century.

In 1920, Viennese psychiatrist Manfred Sakel induced a coma by injecting large doses of insulin into an unfed patient, which produced a hypoglycaemic [the medical condition of an abnormally low level of sugar in the blood] reaction and caused convulsions. Studies revealed neuronal shrinkage and a 5% death rate.

In 1934, Hungarian psychiatrist, Ladislaus Joseph von Meduna developed Metrazol [a drug used as a circulatory or respiratory stimulus] shock, and injected a mixture of camphor and olive oil that produced violent convulsions and caused bone fractures.

Ect pigIn 1938, Italian psychiatrist Ugo Cerletti developed electro shock treatment for humans, after being inspired by a visit to a Rome Slaughterhouse to observe butchers incapacitating pigs with electric shocks rendering them docile before killing them.

In 1939, Professor Lucien Golla, was neurologist and Mental Pathologist working at the Maudsley Hospital in London when he was offered the Medical Director position at the newly opened Burden Neurological Institute in Bristol. Golla brought Dr Walter Grey with him, a leading neurophysiologist who developed the first commercially viable electric shock machine in the UK. Together Grey and Golla introduced ECT to the UK and continued to use and study ECT at the Burden Neurological Institute throughout the 1970s.