Using shock therapy on mentally ill ‘should be outlawed’ in Ireland

The controversial use of electric shock therapy to treat mentally ill patients against their will should be outlawed immediately, according to the Mental Health Commission (MHC) after a report found its use without consent has increased.

Using shock therapy on mentally ill ‘should be outlawed’ in Ireland

An MHC assessment of the use of seclusion, restraint and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) in inpatient mental health services in 2013 found use of ECT without consent had risen by 70%.

Chairman John Saunders said they had been “asking for years” for the law to be changed to prevent this happening.

“When the Review Group [set up to review the Mental Health Act 2001] reported back last April, the first thing Minister Kathleen Lynch said she would do was rush through legislation to amend the Act so ECT would not be administered without consent. It was promised before the summer recess. This Government has a limited time left and we would ask them to prioritise this action,” Mr Saunders said.

The Department of Health said details of the Mental Health (Amendment) Bill 2008 were being finalised with the aim of having it before the Dáil “in the coming weeks”.

The bill will ensure ECT cannot be administered to an involuntary patient who has capacity and refuses it.

Mr Saunder said they were also concerned that use of seclusion — where patients are isolated behind locked doors usually for safety reasons — increased for the first time in six years, up 12% on 2013 and that the use of physical restraint was up 8%.

He said seclusion and restraint should only be used “in exceptional circumstances”.

Among the MHC findings were:

  • 41 patients were given ECT without consent.
  • St Patrick’s University Hospital (independent service provider) administered the highest number of ECT programmes nationally in 2013 (125). The Department of Psychiatry, Waterford Regional Hospital recorded the highest number (32) in a HSE-managed service.
  • A total of 2,217 treatments of ECT were administered in 2013 mostly to individuals with depressive disorders resistant to medication. Six in 10 were female. The oldest was 93.
  • Use of seclusion in the Department of Psychiatry, Waterford Regional Hospital, rose from 90 episodes in 2012 to 270 in 2013 and from 45 to 226 at the Department of Psychiatry, St Luke’s Hospital, Kilkenny
  • There were a total of 3,303 episodes of physical restraint. St Vincent’s Hospital, Fairview reported the highest number.

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