The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has been arguing in favour of ECT as a safe treatment for severe mental illness, according to a short piece in the current issue of the BPS magazine The Psychologist. The APA claims that ECT is effective 80% of the time and there is no evidence for any associated brain damage.
On the other hand a recent review by Bentall and Read (2010, see here) concluded that any benefits of ECT, when they arise, are minimal, short-lived and come with a significant risk of memory impairment and a slight risk of death. This conclusion was based on a review of studies over the last 60 years where the use of ECT for depression or schizophrenia was compared to a placebo control procedure. Bentall and Read’s final word is that the evidence is so poor that it’s use cannot be scientifically-justified.