A publication covering the New York State legislature reports on the protest organized by electroshock survivors, calling for a ban of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) on children below age of 16. MindFreedom endorsed this protest.
State urged to ban electroshock on minors
Source: Legislative Gazette, Albany, New York, USA
Human rights activists gathered on the East Lawn of the Capitol last Tuesday to ask for legislative support for a ban on electroshock therapy for minors a ban put in effect in many other states already.
Electroshock therapy, or electroconvulsive therapy, involves running electricity through the brain to cause a seizure, and has been used in psychiatry to treat mental illnesses and severe depression for 70 years.
An estimated 100,000 people every year receive ECT, according to Mental Health America, and the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association and the National Institute of Mental Health define it as a safe and effective medical treatment for certain psychiatric disorders.
The protesters and mental health advocates are not calling for a complete ban on ECT; they want the state to ban the treatment for people under the age of 16 who cannot provide consent for the therapy.
Texas, California, Colorado and Louisiana are among the states that have banned the use of ECT on people under age 16, and many other states have laws that regulate the use of ECT. Lauren Tenney, organizer for The Opal Project and We the People, the groups behind the 24-hour vigil and demonstration at the Capitol, said a legislative ban on ECT for children must be the next step for New York.
Assembly Felix Ortiz, D-Brooklyn, is proposing legislation that would place many restrictions on electroshock treatment, including the ban for children under age 16 the protesters seek (A.8779). We the People and other organizations that provided support at the demonstration on July 14 hope the event will end their search for a senator to sponsor this legislation, a hope that may be dim with the backlog of legislation the Senate needs to pass due to the month of inaction and power struggles.
According to the state Office of Mental Health, 134 1.3 percent individuals out of the approximately 10,000 adult patients served in OMHs inpatient service received ECT in 2000. The rate receiving ECT in non-OMH facilities is 1.8 percent. The number of individuals receiving ECT has risen 45 percent from 1990 to 2000from 74 to 134 patients.
I felt very depressed, in a case of hopelessness I was in a very vulnerable state, said Mariann Merlino, a demonstrator who received four ECT treatments. My neighborhood psychologist said that ECT might help, and I was reluctant at first. Eventually, I got so depressed, so hopeless, that I agreed to it.
Merlino fits the description of the typical ECT patient today; two- thirds of ECT patients are women, and half are over 65 in age. The change in demographics from the young male patient of the mid-20th century may be attributed to the aging of the baby boomers, and the fact that Medicare covers some electroconvulsive treatments.
When I went in for my first treatment, people were lined up outside the door, said Merlino. It was like ECT day.
Afterwards, Merlino said she regretted having the ECT treatments and was relieved she only decided to have four.
I pushed myself out of the downward spiral, but not with [the help of my psychologist.], said Merlino. I ordinarily never would have done this.
Instead of electroconvulsive therapy, the demonstrators advocate alternative options such as support groups to help people who are considering the controversial treatments.
The best alternative for young people is setting up support networks, said Tenney. Looking at the spirit of young people and treasuring it, instead of locking them down and shooting them up with drugs.
Stephanie Orlando, director of Youth Power, a statewide group for young people with disabilities or socio-emotional challenges, attended the demonstration as a younger voice among many of the older organizers. She also stressed the importance of support networks as the first treatment for depression and other psychiatric disorders.
For us, it is about the youth, and ensuring that they are given services that help, said Orlando. People should be told that ECT should be a last resort, and alternatives like peer support need to be given. Simple things like a person with a shared experience can be helpful.
The state Office of Mental Health released a practice advisory on July 13, recommending the use of ECT on individuals under 18 only in those rare instances where other treatments have proven ineffective. However, a complete ban on ECT for minors is unnecessary, according to OMH because the treatment is hardly ever used on minors.
It is a very rare procedure to begin with, said Jill Daniels, OMH acting director of public affairs. For ages 16 years and younger, we can go back three years and find [ECT] in no state psychiatric facilities. It is private practitioners who do this, and even then, it is only about four children per year in the United States. It is not something that is a wide practice.
Tenney has seen the advisory released by the OMH, and said it is not enough. She said money is the reason she and other activists believe nothing has been done to challenge the psychiatric industry in New York, stating that ECT specialists make $400,000 double that of other psychiatrists.