Insulin shock therapy or insulin coma therapy (ICT)
Insulin shock therapy, which is more correctly called insulin coma therapy, was a psychiatric treatment for schizophrenia used during the earlier part of the 20th century. Psychiatrist during that period thought that a physiological shock can be used to control mental illness symptoms. Insulin shock therapy was frequently employed to cause physiological shock which is actually a hypoglycemic coma. Other types of shock therapy employed during that period were induced malarial fever and metrazol shock therapy. Today, only one type of physiological shock therapy is still used, the electro-convulsive therapy (ECT).
It is believed by many that the early 20th century psychiatrists did not have a good knowledge of the reasons mental illness develop. Several psychiatrists from that period thought that a past traumatic emotional experience, behavior problems or personality problems were the main cause of mental illness. There are those who thought there could be biological or physical components to a good number of the mental illnesses. Before the 20th century, treating mental illness was thought to be very basic. It is only during the 20th century that improvements were made in the treatment of mental illness.
Why are we still using electroconvulsive therapy?
Before the 20th century, most people with mental illness did not get any type of treatment for the problem. Neither did they get any help on how they can cope or manage their sickness. Although there is an increase in the knowledge on psychotherapy through the efforts of Sigmund Freud which proved to be useful to many people who had neurotic mental diseases, psychoaffective problems like schizophrenia was still almost untreatable.
For some time, doctors and psychiatrists had seen psychiatric conditions improve among patients who were mentally ill when they were getting better from all kinds of physiological shock such as severe fever. From this observation came the belief that mental health symptoms can be overcome with physiological shock such as convulsions and coma resulted in the use of electro-convulsive shock, metrazol shock therapy and insulin shock therapy as treatments.
Insulin shock therapy depends upon the effect of the metabolic hormone, insulin, to cause coma in an individual whose blood glucose level becomes excessively low. Dr. Manfred Sakel, a German psychiatrist , became the first person to use this method in the treatment of drug withdrawal symptoms in opium addicts. This doctor discovered that the use of insulin in low doses could relieve the symptoms of physical withdrawal and improve the moods of his patients. He also discovered that patients became less aggressive for some time after putting them into states of confusion or grogginess with more insulin.
Since early 1930s, Dr. Sakel had been using insulin shock therapy to treat schizophrenia. He discovered that coma caused by hypoglycemia could improve behavior and reduce the psychological symptoms of schizophrenic patients. Insulin shock therapy was thought to be easier to control than metrazol shock therapy or other types of shock treatment. However, this treatment was finally not continued as psychiatrists found out that permanent complications as well as death can result from hypoglycemic comas.