Australia: Use of electric shock therapy has doubled in decade

By Clare Masters

November 18, 2006
The Daily Telegraph

CONTROVERSIAL electric shock treatment is making a comeback in NSW hospitals, with new figures showing the use has doubled in the past 10 years, including on schoolchildren.

Federal Government statistics show the use of Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT) – electric shock delivered to the brain – has risen in the state from 2093 in 1994-1995 to 5291 in 2005-2006.

The Medicare statistics recorded 16 cases in the five to 14 age bracket.

The figures come as the Western Australian Government bans ECT for children under the age of 12, but the NSW Government has ruled out prohibiting the treatment for children.

“NSW Health is not aware of any child under 12 years having received ECT in the public hospital system in recent years,” a spokeswoman said.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists Dr Phil Brock said the college did not recommend the use of ECT on children due to their developing brains.

Sydney University’s Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Garry Walter said he was unaware of any cases in NSW relating to very young children but said it was possible in 15 year olds.

“It is rare but when it is used it can be lifesaving – its use is most common in young people with severe mood disorders,” he said.

Notorious for its barbaric use in Sydney’s Chelmsford Private Psychiatric Hospital, shut down nearly 30 years ago, ECT is increasingly used across the country – up from 9034 in 1994-1995 to 18,083 in 2005-2006.

Although doctors are still mystified as to how the therapy works, it is used to treat mental disorders such as depression and psychosis.

Adverse reports of ECT include memory loss, spontaneous seizures and headaches and modern treatment involves administering, under anaesthetic, a series of electric shocks to the brain at intervals over a few weeks.

Reports on Australian mental health support website depression.com.au record one person claiming the treatment was “humane” and “changed my life”.

Another 54-year-old male said he suffered short-term memory loss and headaches and a 43-year-old male reported forgetting his phone number.

“I will never voluntarily have ECT again,” he wrote.

Comments (3)

Angela WhittleJanuary 15th, 2007 at 6:10 am

I had ECT in 1992 at Glenside Hospital in South Australia. I had some memory loss around the time of the therapy and have still some memory missing around this time. I am pleased to have gone down this track for the experience of becoming well again as I was determined to do. Depression put me in the grips of a terrifying despair and I would have done anything to escape it. Suicide was’nt an option for me so ECT was my answer at the time. Hope this is of help.

Cathy PepperMarch 23rd, 2008 at 9:31 pm

I would be dead without ECT.Enough said.

Donna BradshawFebruary 17th, 2011 at 6:11 pm

I have have 16 ECT treatments for psychotic depression over the last 6 months. It has been a life saver for me. The minor memory problems do come back. I improved after the first 3-4 treatments, and have had some maintenance treatments. The benefits far outway the side effects. At present I am contemplating further maintenance ECT to keep me from relapse. I would do anything to prevent going back to the dark hole of depression.

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