Shock treatment statistic ‘barbaric’ – New Zealand

19 August 2006

An opponent wants to stop shock treatment for the mentally ill, but medical experts believe it has positive results. Geoff Taylor reports.

More than one in four people at Waikato Hospital who get electric shock treatment do not consent.

One opponent calls the statistic barbaric, but medical staff say her views are based on out-dated ideas of the treatment.

They say electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) is performed under general anaesthetic and allows many mentally ill people to live normal lives.

Hamilton patients rights advocate Anna de Jonge wants all ECT stopped.

Health Ministry statistics show that in the 2004-05 year 93 non-consented treatments were given to patients at Waikato Hospital. This amounted to 30 per cent of all treatments.

Nationally, 23 per cent of the 307 patients who received ECT did not give their consent.

Waikato Hospital staff said that in the year to March 2006, 23 patients received treatment, six of whom did not give consent.

Anna de Jonge called it barbaric slaughterhouse treatment.

“Treatment without consent is assault,” she said.

“You can’t just grab somebody and shock them. Because it’s done in secret behind closed doors that doesn’t make it okay.”

Waikato Hospital consultant psychiatrist John Strachan said the treatment was used for depression when anti-depressants failed or for people who were psychotic or suicidal.

Patients were deemed not competent to give consent if they lacked the ability to understand information, process it rationally and communicate a choice. At this point, a second opinion was needed from another psychiatrist before treatment could start.

No one was ever forcibly held down and given the treatment. Unlike in the 1950s, patients were fully anaesthetised and had muscle relaxants.

Waikato Hospital general manger mental health Chris Harris said Ms de Jonge’s views were based on perceptions of what occurred about 50 years ago. He said it would be wrong to remove ECT as an option. For a number of people it had been a positive, life-changing experience.

Hamilton woman Margaret Parry, who received treatments in the 1950s, disputed that the treatment was better now.

“I think it’s the worst thing you can do to another human being.”

ECT works in the same way as anti-depressants, affecting the messages sent by neurotransmitters in the brain.

Comments (2)

JoeAugust 20th, 2006 at 2:40 pm

I thought forced treatment only happened in turd world countries.

JuliAugust 22nd, 2006 at 3:45 pm

No, it happens all over.

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