KNOWN in the past as shock therapy. those who suffered from severe depression would be sent to the ECT room for a little ‘therapy’. Based not he age old belief that trauma and convulsions may actually improve mental disturbances, Ugo Cerletti began testing his electroconvulsive therapy.
Lana and Jude are both unfortunate to experience this form of treatment, and although barbaric looking, these scenes are pretty much factually correct. At the time AHS: Asylum was set, the mid 1960s, ECT was in its most popular phase. Cerletti, an established epilepsy specialist, one that a shock across the head produced convulsions; something he learned from experimenting on animals.
Having seen slaughterhouses anaesthetise pigs with electric shocks before they were butchered, Carletti developed a method and apparatus in order to deliver such brief shocks to humans. Having practised and perfected his technique on animals, he soon began human testing, particularly on those with acute-onset schizophrenia. It was found that between 10-20 shocks on alternate days showed decided improvements in subjects tested on.
Having circulated through Europe from 1939, the practice of ECT was proving effective on a variety of disorders, and cured 90% of all tested cases of treatment-resistant depression after 3-4 weeks of treatment of ECT.
The popularity continued into the 1970s, when its use began to wane against the new and more effective neuroleptics that were coming into use. Falling out of disrepute to these antidepressants and antipsychotics such as thorazine, psychiatrists were less keen to use this therapy. Much like the transorbital lobotomy and other psychosurgery, ECT was highly troublesome and often misused in asylum settings. Such as we see in American Horror Story: Asylum, Lana and Jude were subject to this therapy, simply to subdue and punish.
‘Moreover, its use as a means of managing unruly patients, for whom other treatment were not then available, contributed to the perception of ECT as an abusive instrument of behavioural control for patients in mental institutions.’
The 1970s also saw the release of the film version of One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest, in which ECT received much bad press and negative attention. In fact, this was later fuelled by a series of legal actions involving electroconvulsive therapy abuse. It was around this time the practice became less common.
So, was that the end of ECT?
Well, no. In fact, ECT is a therapy that is still used today to treat those with moderate-severe depression which they’ve had for some time, for which other treatments and medication has not worked. It works by passing a small amount of electric current passed across the brain for approx. 0.2-0.8 seconds. Patients are anaesthetised prior and given a muscle relaxant. Causing an artificial epileptic seizure, this worked over time to alter chemical messages in the brain, including the parts which affect thinking, mood and appetite- all of these that people with depression often suffer.
Safe, with risk of death at 1 in every 80,000 procedures, this procedure has few side effects (mainly memory loss) and continues to help treat those with depression.