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Therapy in films shocks docs

mumbai Updated: Jan 03, 2011 02:12 IST
Sonal Shukla

The image of the horrifying ‘shock treatment’ that we have grown up watching is actually “exaggerated, distorted, or faulty,” according to a study by three Indian psychiatrists.

Dr Chittaranjan Andrade, Dr Nilesh Shah and Dr Basappa Venkatesh studied the portrayal of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), popularly called shock treatment in 13 popular Bollywood films made between 1967 and 2008. “We found the depictions were inaccurate and dramatised,” said Andrade, professor, department of psychopharmacology, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bangalore.

ECT is a potentially life-saving treatment for patients suffering from depression, schizophrenia, post-partum psychosis and suicidal and homicidal tendencies. ECT is also effective in patients, who don’t respond to medication. But in films, according to the study, the treatment was used to either erase memory, to change the identity, to turn the person insane or to punish him.

This misconception, said doctors, leads to most patients or their families being averse to ECT when it is suggested to them. “We see at least 15 to 20 patients in the hospital for whom ECT could prove beneficial. But many people misconstrue it as painful and torture. Some feel the treatment is meant for insane people,” said Shah, head of psychiatry at Sion Hospital.

The study was published in Journal of ECT, an international journal dedicated to the science of electroconvulsive therapy and related treatments, in March.

Though many patients can distinguish between real and reel life, films have a great potential to influence public attitudes, said doctors. “Everybody has heard about ‘shock treatment’ and almost everybody considers it undesirable. Negative attitudes are more prevalent among educated people because they have had more exposure to negative media portrayal,” said Andrade.

“It would be a shame if patients or their families refuse treatment only because of misinformation received through the mass media.”

Doctors are presently initiating a study that examines patients’ assumptions about the treatment in detail. “The word shock is an absolute misnomer and creates a stigma and fear about the treatment. The representation of mental health in our films needs a correction,” said Dr Shubhangi Parkar, head of department of psychiatry, KEM Hospital.