“Do they still do that?“ is the typical response of the average lay person whenever the subject of electroshock is raised. And the answer is Yes.

In 2012, the latest year for which figures are available, 244 people received electroshock in Irish hospitals. And worst of all, 27 people received it against their will in line with Section 59b of the 2001 Mental Health Act which allows it to be given to a person who is “unable or unwilling” to consent, on the say-so of two psychiatrists.

In his Annual Report for 2013, the Chairman of The Mental Health Commission John Saunders states “The Commission is still concerned that ECT can be administered to detained persons against their will.” In 2011 Minister of State for Mental Health Kathleen Lynch established an Expert Group to review the 2001 Act. In its Report published last March it stated that “there are diverging views both within and outside the psychiatric profession on the necessity and/or efficacy “ of electroshock.

Those diverging views are expressed in the language. Proponents will use the term ‘Electroconvulsive Therapy’ (ECT) – opponents, not accepting it is therapy, prefer the more realistic term ‘electroshock’.

During the procedure electrodes are placed on one or both temples and an electric current of between 70 and 400 volts is passed through the brain of the person resulting in a seizure or grand mal convulsion. In its early years the person was physically restrained without anaesthetic which frequently resulted in broken bones and teeth. It was unadulterated torture graphically illustrated in the film ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and a PR disaster for the psychiatric profession.

Today they refer to it as new, improved ‘modified ECT’ but this is just a propaganda claim as it has been so for the last 40 years. A general anaesthetic is given along with muscle relaxing drugs, the person feels nothing during the quick operation and as the information leaflets say, may only suffer some initial confusion and headache which will soon pass.

This is a sanitised view which is at odds with the reality as reported by many recipients. By using anaesthetic and muscle relaxants, even more electricity has to be used causing even more brain damage. The person will still display an intense facial grimace and twitching limbs, the sign to the psychiatrist that ‘a successful fit’ has been achieved. This will be one ‘treatment’ which can be repeated up to 3 times in a week. A ‘programme’ of electroshock can rise to a maximum of 12 ‘treatments’, the average being 8.

It is universally agreed in medicine that occurrence of seizures is always harmful to the brain. Within neurology every effort is made to prevent them. Psychiatry is the only branch of medicine that specialises in deliberately causing them.

Afterwards, the person is dazed, confused and disorientated, consistent with an acute brain injury – a concussion such as a blow to the head with a hammer. Some later feel a temporary euphoria which is offered as a plus. However, many also experience retrograde and anterograde (before and after the event) amnesia and further brain dysfunction including problems with concentration, decision making, creativity, problem solving ability and processing new information, conditions which can last a lifetime.

Famously, Kitty Dukakis, the former First Lady Of Massachusetts was able to drive home afterwards as she embarked on a course of regular ‘maintenance’ electroshock while the writer Ernest Hemingway said they had “robbed me of my capital” meaning his memory before taking his own life.

And then there is the issue of consent. Psychiatry’s justification for shock is just a theory. It has no scientific foundation. It is unable to scientifically say how electroshock ‘works’. So when people give their consent, they cannot be giving fully informed consent because psychiatry, by its own admission, is not fully scientifically informed. Even those who do, do so when they are in a vulnerable state and often will already have been heavily drugged, leaving their mind in a numbed state. For those unwilling, there can be no greater violation of their human rights. Ironically, that argument is turned on its head by psychiatry which claims it is a denial of those human rights and unprofessional and unethical to deny the person full access to any treatment they say may be of benefit.

‘Refractory to medication’ is the phrase they use to justify their actions and point to research such as the Scottish ECT Accreditation Network study as evidence of its worth. But research carried out by enthusiasts for the practice hardly is impartial and the fact remains that even among psychiatry itself, there are many who will never resort to it.

For many years there were no Irish statistics available on electroshock and the reports of the Inspector of Mental Health Services frequently spoke of the electroshock Register being ‘missing’ or ‘unavailable’. The 548 page 2004 Mental Health Commission Report contained one sentence on the subject. Only after public disquiet and a sustained campaign by Dublin psychiatrist Dr. Michael Corry did reporting improve but the latest figures available still only refer to 2012.

These show that 2152 single treatments were given to 244 people in Irish hospitals. Twice as many women than men were recipients, the oldest a woman of 92. Fifty-two women and 17 men between the ages of 70 – 89 were shocked. The figures also reflect the diverging opinions within psychiatry with some hospitals reporting a high figure and others none at all. St. Patrick’s Hospital, Dublin had the highest number of programmes with 120, followed by Waterford Regional Hospital with 30. No programmes were administered in any of the Cork hospitals.

Even given this divergence, only a few brave psychiatrists have stated their positions in public. First there was the late Dr. Noel Browne, then Dr Ivor Browne, then the above mentioned Dr. Michael Corry and currently the Director of West Cork Mental Health Services Dr. Pat Bracken. Dr Corry conducted an intense campaign in the media calling for the abolition of electroshock. He was a hero for the many people who had been traumatised by their experience. They included my wife who was shocked 3 days after the birth of our daughter and who, to this day, has no recollection whatsoever of what should have been one of the most precious memories of her life. It explains why today she is a founder member of MindFreedom Ireland and a passionate campaigner, not just against electroshock, but for the full recognition of the human rights of all those caught in the nexus of psychiatry and its forced ‘treatments’.

At 2pm on Saturday May 16th, MindFreedom Ireland will organise a public protest against electroshock outside Bishop Lucey Park on The Grand Parade, Cork. It will be their 7th such protest and will coincide with similar protests being held in more than 30 cities and 9 countries worldwide. Many recipients will provide personal testimonies of their experiences. MindFreedom Ireland calls for the implementation of full human rights for all people at all times and for the total abolition of a dehumanising and outdated practice.


Most of this article was published in the Evening Echo May 15th