Despite protests calling for a ban on the treatment, electroshock therapy is frequently used by Canadian psychiatrists to treat severe depression.

The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) estimates that last year, the procedure, which dates back to 1938 and involves passing electrical currents though the brain to trigger seizures, was used more than 15,000 times in the country.

The figure has remained virtually unchanged since 2002, CIHI says, showing that the popularity of the procedure remains strong.

A report in the Canadian Medical Association Journal last week shows the procedure is commonly used to treat drug-resistant depression in seniors.

However, critics of the procedure believe its usage should be stopped, and it is a painful procedure that leads to brain damage.

On Sunday, about a dozen protesters rallied in Ottawa, calling for a ban of the procedure. 

Protest organizer Sue Clark-Wittenberg had electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) 35 years ago, and says it has kept her from getting an education and a good job.

"The bottom line is electroshock always damages the brain. Electroshock always causes memory loss," she says.

ECT survives calls for ban

Dr. Nizar Ladha, a psychiatrist based in St. John's, has been using ECT for three decades. He says the procedure does induce seizures, but they're not painful and don't cause convulsions.  

"As an effective and lifesaving treatment, it rates right up there with the discovery of penicillin," he told CBC News.

Ladha says he has seen ECT help fight depression and prevent many suicides.

The Canadian Psychiatric Association argues that ECT is safe and effective, though the Canadian Medical Association says it can cause memory loss.

But Dr. Paul Breggin,  a New York-based psychiatrist, is in a minority of psychiatrists who says the procedure should be banned.

"We're treating human beings as if they are a very crude machine which can be battered back into shape."

Still, Dr. David Goldbloom, a psychiatrist with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, predicts it will become even more popular, having survived numerous calls to ban it and two provincial inquiries.

"Each time the conclusion is the same — that the balance of evidence supports retaining this to try to help people with depression."