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New Zealand newspaper covers electroshock hazards.

Psychiatry: A fraudulent and dangerous practice.

Date Published:

May 09, 2007 03:00 AM


Source: The Press, New Zealand

A Christchurch man says “barbaric” electric shock therapy failed to lift his depression but robbed him of treasured memories.

David O’Neill’s health deteriorated in 2004 after a motorcycle accident damaged his liver, bladder and thyroid and sliced his spleen in two.

He had repeated admissions to hospital for complications of his injuries and a series of unsuccessful investigations to find the cause of his chronic abdominal pain.

The frequent hospital stays and constant pain took its toll on his mental health.

“I ended up suicidal,” said O’Neill.

He was admitted to Hillmorton Hospital in 2005 for depression. On his second stay, a doctor recommended a 12-session course of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), which O’Neill consented to.

“I cannot even remember being admitted to the hospital, never mind giving consent for the ECT,” he said.

The treatment failed to lift his depression and it destroyed his memory. He has no recollection of his wedding day, the birth of his three children or even his childhood.

O’Neill, now 49, said that before his accident he had cared for his wife – paralysed in a 1985 car accident – and raised their three children.

“Now I can’t do anything. I feel as if I’m above myself all the time. I don’t feel pain; I’m emotion-free,” he said.

ECT was “barbaric” and should be banned, he said.

His family is dismayed it was not consulted and says O’Neill was not well enough to give properly informed consent.

Daughter Julieanne O’Neill said her father no longer felt any love for his family, including his two-year-old grandson.

“My dad has no feelings for him, no feelings for his family. He doesn’t feel anything for himself. He is living in an empty shell,” she said. “It has taken every single bit of my dad that was ever there away from him.”

She said some doctors appeared to see ECT as “the quickest and easiest” solution. “But it’s not them that has to go home and have this zombie person to cope with.”

Mary O’Neill said the shock treatment had stolen the husband she had known.

Psychiatric Consumers Trust advocate Liz Henderson said ECT could lift depression and transform the lives of patients. “There is a place for it.” But it had clearly failed O’Neill.

“It has compounded what was already a difficult situation,” Henderson said.

Henderson was concerned that consent was gained without his family’s involvement. “He wasn’t well enough to make that decision.”

Vince Barry, general manager of Canterbury District Health Board mental health services, would not discuss individual patients.

However, he said it was the responsibility of clinicians to determine whether a patient was able to understand the pros and cons of ECT. “It would be unusual for someone to be given ECT without a discussion between the clinical team and close family members,” he said.

The Health and Disability Commissioner has decided against a formal investigation of O’Neill’s case and referred him to an advocate.

The Accident Compensation Corporation has refused his treatment injury claim, ruling that the ECT did not cause a physical injury.

ECT statistics (July 2004-June 2005):

307 patients given ECT (79 in Canterbury).

22 per cent did not give consent.

0.4% of mental health patients given ECT nationally.

1.1% of Canterbury mental health patients given ECT.