The Shocking Facts - Why Opponents Call for A Ban on ECT

Submitted by Anonymous on Mon, 11/19/2007 - 16:56

by Marian B. Goldstein

Leonard Roy Frank is a survivor and activist. One of the most prominent personalities in the movement against ECT. He has been exposed to ECT-treatment himself, he has written a book on the history of electroshock and witnessed at hearings.

"This was the most painful and humiliating experience of my life", he says about his experience with ECT. "My memory for the three preceding years was gone. (...)my high school and college education was effectively destroyed. I felt that every part of me was less than what it had been."

Earlier this year a study was published, among others by Harold Sackeim, one of the most pronounced proponents of ECT in the US, which shows irreversible memory loss and persistantly reduced cognitive abilities in individuals exposed to, especially but not exclusively, bilateral ECT. The study concludes, that bilateral ECT therefor should be replaced by unilateral ECT, which, according to the results, does not have these side-effects to the same extent.

US-psychiatrist Peter Breggin objects, saying that unilateral ECT mostly affects those areas in the brain which relate to emotions. Consequently, the damage is not as measurable as reduced cognitive abilities are, and the individual him- or herself does not necessarily pay a greater attention to it and may very well have difficulty expressing the loss. Which, anyway, does not make the loss itself less important.

The results of the study support and make topical what the opponents of ECT have been pointing out for decades: That ECT "works" because it causes brain damage. Scans and MRIs following ECT show haemorrhages in the brain, and the often observed euphoria as well as seizures and memory loss are identical to the symptoms of severe head injury.

Furthermore, psychologist and activist John Breeding reports that the mortality rate with 1 out of 200 is high, that ECT may cause heart problems and sometimes epilepsy, that the effectiveness of real ECT is no better than that of sham-ECT, and that the suicide rate for individuals who were exposed to ECT is no lower than that for individuals who have not been exposed to this treatment.

Indeed, studies show that ECT sometimes increases suicidality during and right after treatment. "I only wish to die", my friend wrote in a letter to me while she was hospitalized, receiving ECT.

This increased suicidality may be related to the effect ECT according to its opponents really aims to have: The effect of "a trauma on top of a trauma", as Dianne at Freedom Center's Bed Push '07 commented on psychiatry in general. That of a trauma which exceeds the original trauma that lead to crisis, and thus forces it into the background.

"Fear for life and body renders psychotic fear superfluous", German psychiatrist Klaus Dörner thus states. ECT, especially when administered forcibly, places the exposed individual in the position of the victim, helplessly and passively dependent and subjected to the professionals' conditions.

According to its opponents, ECT therefor "works" on the same principles as torture: By creating strong feelings of fear, shame and complete helplessness, it subverts any kind of resistance. Psychiatric "symptoms" do imply an aspect of resistance, US-neurologist John M. Friedberg points out. And he continues: "Can resistance be overcome by torture? Obviously."

Under any other circumstances than psychiatric ones, it is a human rights violation, it is torture, to expose an individual to electric shock. ECT, along with every other psychiatric treatment method, is a punishment disguised as "help", a "social control weapon" as Don Weitz, Canadian survivor and activist, puts it. What is controlled and punished becomes clear when one looks at statistics showing that both women and the elderly are far more often psychiatrized, medicalized and shocked than men: Deviant, inconvenient behavior.

Summing up, one can say that the opponents arguments are that ECT neither is a lenient nor life-saving treatment. On the contrary. Apart from the considerable, psychologically degrading and dehumanizing effect, especially of ECT administered forcibly, ECT implies an unproportionally high risk to health. Information about this risk is insufficient. As certain comments at Outsideren's debate as well as a tour through the Danish mainstream-websites shows, sometimes there are even told lies and/or information is suppressed. "Informed consent" thus cannot be said to be a reality in today's Denmark.

Memories, also and not least emotional ones, and even painful memories, are which makes us personalities. My own experience is that emotional crises are a result of recalling memories has become too painful. Psychiatry's answer to this pain is to erase the memories. Directly, by inflicting brain damage with memory loss as a result, or indirectly, by surpassing the original trauma with a new one. This answer is directly connected to society's development towards a preference for the quick and easy solutions. Quick and easy solutions which inevitably will backfire, sooner or later.

In my opinion, psychiatry's answer to the pain reflects a view of human nature that leaves only little room to the complexity of the human mind. It reduces me to my neurotransmitters and genes, and, in worst case, irrevocably takes away those memories, which would make it possible for me to discover my true being in here and now, my personality. This, my own, personal insight, has been motivation enough for me to join the opponents in their efforts.