Dr. Nuland starts with a brief description of the history of mental illness and its treatment. He talks about his own debilitating depression and some of the treatment options, like lobotomy and electroconvulsive therapy. This talk has inspired many, who live with the curse of mental illness, to persevere and ultimately triumph.

Surgeon and author Sherwin Nuland discusses the development of electroshock therapy as a cure for severe, life-threatening depression — including his own. It’s a moving and heartfelt talk about relief, redemption and second chances.

Why you should listen:

Many consider Dr. Nuland’s TED talk to be one of the most powerful moments in the history of the conference.

The world-renowned surgeon, clinical professor of surgery at Yale and best-selling author began his talk with a history of mental health and mental illness … and gradually began to weave in his own story, of a depression so crippling, so impossible to shift, that in his 40s he was in line for a lobotomy. But his young doctor made a bold suggestion, and then stuck to it in the face of widespread doubt: Nuland would try electric shock therapy.

Who is he:

Surgeon, author and speaker Sherwin Nuland died on March 3, 2014, at age 83. The author of a dozen books — including the award-winning How We Die, a clear-eyed look at life’s last chapter — Nuland came to TED in 2001 to tell a story he’d never told before.


  1. How were evil spirits historically dealt with from about 400 BC until around 1600 AD? What happened after the discovery of electricity?
  1. Do some of your own research to try to determine the reasons that electroconvulsive therapy is effective in treating depress, but not effective in treating schizophrenia.
  1. What were some of the early childhood experiences that made Dr. Nuland prone to depression? What was the role of his failed marriage?
  1. What was his experience with treatment in the Yale Acute Care facility and later the mental hospital at Hartford Connecticut?
  1. What are the results of a lobotomy? Are there other diseases that you can identify, where the treatment is nearly as bad as the disease itself?
  1. What was the result of using a “word” to help control his obsessive thinking and behavior?

How electroshock therapy changed me with Sherwin Nuland


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