Knowledge and Attitudes Regarding Electroconvulsive Therapy Among Medical Students and the General Public

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To explore the state of knowledge and attitudes toward electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) among a sample of the adult British general public (n = 70) in comparison with a sample of medical students (n = 70) and MRCPsych students (n = 20). Despite documented efficacy, an uncritical anti-ECT stance is often adopted by the media. It has been suggested that medical students are relatively unfamiliar with ECT. If they do hold the same misconceptions as the general public, there are implications for the future use of ECT.


Participants were opportunistically recruited for a Likert scale questionnaire developed for this study and designed to investigate the source of ideas about ECT, extent of knowledge, and lasting impressions of ECT as portrayed in films.


The lay sample was significantly less knowledgeable and had less positive attitudes and greater fear of ECT than the medical students. The aspects of ECT that medical students were least knowledgeable about were the potential risks and side effects involved. Popular films portraying ECT still seem to have a negative impact on their audiences.


The targets for education both in the public forum and in medical schools should be the procedure of administering ECT and explanation of the associated risks. Outdated and inaccurate depictions of ECT in films are still a frequently reported source of knowledge of ECT for both the general public and medical students.

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