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

Date Published:

Jul 19, 2009 08:00 PM

Author: Jaime Fuller

Source: Legislative Gazette, Albany, New York, USA

original article:

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.