07 May 2007

Psych Survivors Get Star Treatment

The Coalition Against Psychiatric Assault gets "Star" treatment from the Toronto Star, with an article describing the effects of electroshock (ECT or electroconvulsive therapy) on women:
Young women struggling with new babies and elderly women are the two groups of patients most commonly prescribed this therapy, says [Dr. Bonnie] Burstow [professor of Adult Education and Counselling Psychology at OISE/UT]. That is why the coalition is organizing its rally for Mother's Day under the slogan, "Stop shocking our mothers and grandmothers."

Burstow's study of ECT from a feminist perspective, "Electroshock as a Form of Violence Against Women," has appeared in the U.S. publication Journal of Violence Against Women. "It's a form of head injury," she says. "Doing nothing is better than doing something that harms them." Burstow acknowledges that most people believe ECT has been discontinued, although roughly 2,000 people each year receive it in Ontario hospitals.
There is also what sounds like the standard psychiatric line from Dr. David Goldbloom at CAMH in Toronto, Canada's leading venue for electroshock. He claims, "the treatment at his institution is used for those with moderate to severe depression where drugs or other therapies haven't worked or are not advised. "ECT is not typically a first line of response.""

Personally, I find Dr. Goldbloom's comments disingenuous. I am close to a family who has rescued - and I do not use that term lightly - one of their loved ones from CAMH's electroshock within the last two months. The patriarch of the family, a man in his early 70s, had been diagnosed with cancer and became depressed during treatment - not an atypical response. He was whisked to CAMH, placed on drugs, and in less than a week was coerced into electroshock treatment. Neither he nor his family were informed about the side effects. And, when he asked about psycho-therapy as an alternative he was explicitly told that he would not be allowed to have psycho-therapy, nor would he ever be discharged, unless he agreed to electroshock. After several horrifying treatments, after which he was traumatized and terrified, he attempted to withdraw his consent. He was immediately declared incompetent so that the doctors could continue to administer shock. Fortunately, he had the opportunity to transfer power of attorney for personal care to his wife mere moments before the doctor's unilateral declaration. This enabled his family to remove him from CAMH's jurisdiction, take him to a hospital outside of Toronto, where both his cancer and depression are being well looked after - the latter with caring and supportive psycho-therapy, and relatively light medication.

If you or a loved one is being asked (or told) to consider electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) for the treatment of depression, you would do well to read through some of the materials provided by CAPA, and especially this post on their weblog about authentic informed consent.

Disclosure: I volunteer with CAPA.

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