Intended for healthcare professionals


Sherwin Bernard Nuland

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: (Published 22 April 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g2693
  1. Ned Stafford, Hamburg
  1. ns{at}

Surgeon and author who underwent electroshock therapy

In February 2001 Sherwin “Shep” Nuland walked on stage to give a talk before hundreds of people at a TED conference in Monterey, California. Nuland, an award winning author, retired surgeon, and clinical professor at Yale University, publicly revealed for the first time the details of his descent, in the early 1970s, into depression.

“I am a man who, almost 30 years ago, had his life saved by two long courses of electroshock therapy,” he told the audience. “And let me tell you this story.”

Nuland told them that the famous painting The Scream, by Edvard Munch, accurately depicted his depressed and obsessional state of mind during his worst times. In addition to his incapacitating depression, Nuland had been captive to “all kinds of ritualistic observances, just awful, awful stuff,” he said, adding: “Every moment was a scream.”

Psychiatrist J Alexander Bodkin, chief of clinical psychopharmacology research at Harvard University-affiliated McLean Hospital, says: “Sherwin Nuland’s TED talk is by far the most compelling presentation in existence by a person who was saved by electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), and who otherwise was doomed to death or worse.”

Bodkin, who as a third year Yale medical student spent two months with Nuland as a surgery apprentice, believes that Nuland’s talk convinced many patients who “urgently needed” ECT, but were afraid, to undergo the therapy.

“Nothing has ever been found that is as effective as ECT against severe major depression,” says Bodkin. “No medicine, no psychotherapy, nothing. Shep saved many, many lives with his obviously difficult self …

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