Killed by the Huffington Post, Article Now on the Newsstands in Skeptic

Now in the current issue of Skeptic, I have an article called “Depression Treatment: What Works and How We Know” (article rights owned by Skeptic but which I am allowed to republish on my web site). I thought that some of you would be interested in what happened to this article at the Huffington Post.

I am a Huffington Post blogger, and after I first submitted this article as a blog to the Huffington Post in December 2010, an editor emailed me that she wanted to run it not just as a blog but as a “feature,” saying “It’s a very hot topic and should get a lot of exposure.” She told me that their medical review board wanted information on antidepressant efficacy for the “seriously depressed,” and so I added it (including the Irving Kirsch quote about this). She also wanted me to change myths in the original title (“5 Depression Treatment Myths: Good News for Critically Thinking Depression Sufferers”) to controversies, which I agreed to. However, then prior to publication, I noticed that they had made some other changes, including a shocking “Editors’s Note” about electroshock (ECT), and so I emailed them

If HuffPo wants to call them “controversial beliefs” rather than “myths” in this context, I’ll accept that.

The other addition that HuffPo made about ECT that I noticed, I simply cannot accept — even as an editor’s note —  because it is not true. [The Huffington Post Editor’s Note was: “ECT is now a safe, life-saving treatment for people with psychotic depression or severe, suicidal depression that does not respond to a systematic approach that combines medication and therapy.”]

Let me explain, in the January 2007 the journal Neuropsychopharamacology published an article (see reference below) about a large-scale study on the cognitive effects (immediately and six months later) of currently used ECT techniques. The researchers found that modern ECT techniques produce “pronounced slowing of reaction time” and “persisting retrograde amnesia” (the inability to recall events before the onset of amnesia) that continues six-months after treatment. I should add that the leading researcher here, Harold Sackheim, had previously been known as a strong ECT advocate. So, I certainly would not call ECT “safe” and the research tells us, as I pointed out, that ECT, scientifically speaking, is not all that effective.

Harold A. Sackeim, et al., “The Cognitive Effects of Electroconvulsive Therapy in Community Settings, Neuropsychopharamacology (2007) 32: 244-254.

Following my email about ECT, my article was never published, neither as a blog or as feature, and I received an email from the boss of the editor who had initially been so enthusiastic about the article. The higher-up’s email said:

I don’t want to take up any more of your time — I know you’re busy. I’d like to apologize for the back and forth. [My subordinate] should have waited until she heard from our medical reviewer before having you do any additional work/sourcing. As it is, I am going to pass on the piece for Health. I look forward to your next submission and promise a smoother process going forward.

I republished parts of this article in other zines, and the good news is that this article is now, in its entirety with full references, on the newsstands (in the same section as Scientific American) in the current issue of Skeptic, which has titled the article “Depression Treatment: What Works and How We Know.”

2 Responses

  1. Elizabeth H
    Elizabeth H July 3, 2012 at 10:33 am | | Reply

    Disgusting. When my aunt was given three treatments of the “new, safe” ECT in the 1990s, she lost all memory of raising her five children but not her depression.

  2. Jane
    Jane October 31, 2012 at 2:06 pm | | Reply

    I’m confused. They pulled it why exactly???

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