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'Inhumane' shock therapy is on rise

NIAMH HORAN UP TO 850 people are stillbeing given electric shock treatment (ECT) every year in Ireland in an attempt to treat their depression, and thefigure is rising, according to a leading consultantpsychiatrist.

However, the Mental Health Commission has stated that it can't give the latest figures on ECT treatment because a new data collection is under way.

Dr Michael Corry, a consultant psychiatrist at the Institute of Psychosocial Medicine in Dun Laoghaire, has likened the procedure to something you would see in "death camps" and says he is appalled that it is still being carried out in Irish hospitals.

He has called for an end to the "inhumane" practice, which he believes is being carried out by Irish doctors on an average of 16 patients a day.

"The bottom line is it causes brain damage. It's barbaric. We're talking about a human rights issue here. During the treatment the patient has an epileptic fit and loses control of their body, and that is only brought under control by the use of sedatives.

"To put it in perspective, the amount of electricity that is used in ECT is enough to give the patient a heart attack if it were applied to the chest. In fact, people have suffered heart attacks during the treatment in the past."

The increasing use of ECT has prompted calls for a complete ban on the treatment, which is being used as a last resort if antidepressants are deemed to be ineffective.

ECT is generally given over the course of three or four weeks. During the treatment, patients are restrained and sedated before an electric current is run from one side of the head to the other; anything up to 400 volts can be used.

Some of the treatment's more severe side effects include short-term memory loss and changes in personality, while some people have to wear an incontinence pad during treatment due to loss of control of bodily functions.

Paula Lawler, psychologist and cognitive behavioural psychotherapist, described it as an extremely invasive procedure which should only be used as a last resort.

"I don't think it should be totally banned, I think it should only be used as a very, very last resort. But it seems to be becoming more popular again. It's a treatment that's all about trial and error, it does work for some people but I believe some doctors tend to focus on medical solutions and sometimes haven't exhausted all other solutions."

Mary Maddock, 58, from Cork underwent ECT after she became depressed and her prescribed medication wasn't alleviating her condition. She says if she had been in the right frame of mind at the time, she would never have agreed to the treatment.

"I can't recall being asked. I wasn't in the state of mind at the time to make an informed decision so they went to my next of kin, my husband Jim. It was always presented as a very good treatment.

"It definitely did more damage than good to me though, and if I had my time all over again I never would have gotten it. I think patients are saying yes because they're so gullible and because they think doctors would never do anything that could harm them.

"I definitely think people are going to start suing in years to come. Many people will find that it hasn't helped them and they had to go through it unnecessarily."Paula Lawler says patients need more information about the procedure and its side effects. Services such as the Irish Advocacy Network can help patients make informed choices, she said.

Professor Patrick McKeon, medical director in StPatrick's Hospital, Dublinhas defended the use of the treatment."ECT is an internationally recognised therapy for the treatment of severe depression. Its use has dwindled significantly over the past 10 years with advances in psychotherapy, such as cognitive behaviour therapy and the newer antidepressants.

"However, patients who are not benefiting from standard treatments are reviewed regarding the necessity of having ECT. For those with life-threatening depression, it is widely recognised to be the most effective treatment."

Meanwhile, a survey carried out by MIND, a mental health charity in the UK, reported that 84 per cent of respondents suffered side effects from ECT including permanent memory loss, the loss of the ability to read, write and concentrate, as well as headaches and confusion.

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