Discrepancy between Opinion and Attitude on the Practice of ECT by Psychiatrists Specializing in Old Age in the Netherlands

F. B. Van Der Wurff, M. L. Stek, W. J.G. Hoogendijk, A. T.F. Beekman

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21 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Current guidelines consider electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) in the Netherlands a treatment of choice for a depressive disorder with psychotic features, severe suicidal behavior, severe physical exhaustion, or resistance to treatment with antidepressants (consecutively SSRIs, TCAs, lithium, MAO inhibitors). It is advised to use ECT early on in the treatment of depressed elderly patients. In practice, ECT is applied to only a minority of depressed elderly patients in the Netherlands. This situation dates back to the 1970s, in which strong aversive opinions toward ECT grew in the Netherlands, largely as a reaction to the malpractice of ECT in that time and influenced by social-cultural opinions toward psychiatry. Negative attitudes among professionals and lack of knowledge may contribute to the under use in depressed elderly patients. Methods: A postal questionnaire was sent to 152 psychiatrists who specialize in old age to assess their opinions and attitudes toward ECT. Results: Only a small minority thought ECT was a treatment of choice in a depressive disorder with psychotic features (4%), severe suicidal risk (2%), or physical exhaustion (5%). The majority of the psychiatrists had strongly reserved opinions in considering ECT as a treatment of first, second or third choice in depressed elderly patients, even in treatment-resistant depressive disorders. Conclusions: Many psychiatrists who specialize in old age in the Netherlands divert from the current guidelines and are reluctant toward using ECT as a treatment of choice in a number of specific, clinical situations. This might be a major contributing factor to the present and past underuse of ECT in depressed elderly patients in the Netherlands.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-41
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of ect
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2004


  • Attitudes
  • Depressive disorder
  • Elderly
  • Electroconvulsive therapy
  • Questionnaire

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