CAPA Anti-Shock Press Conference

Yesterday was the CAPA press conference, held in the media studio at Queen’s Park, in advance of Sunday’s Stop Shocking Our Mothers and Grandmothers demonstration and rally. CAPA director, Bonnie Burstow, anti-psychiatry activist Don Weitz, and shock survivor Paivi Laine were on the speakers panel before a modest audience. Bonnie began by explaining that the current Mothers Day initiative is particularly a feminist initiative against psychiatric assault and electroshock, as women – especially new mothers and the elderly – comprise the majority of the targets of psychiatric intrusion.

Electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT, has been shown to profoundly interfere with memory and the capacity to lead a normal life among a majority of patients on whom it has been inflicted. Repeated hearings with testimony from survivors have called for the practice to end. The most recent, and largest study to date on electroshock, published this year by Sackheim, demonstrates with conclusive scientific evidence that ECT causes extensive brain damage and memory loss, and results in “emotional blunting” irrespective of the type of treatment used. What is significant about this study is that the principal investigator, Sackheim, was himself a former shock promoter. It has been shown to be no more effective a treatment for suicide, depression, or anything else than a placebo.

Bonnie called on the government to protect its citizens from this practice, and especially to put an end to what is effectively state-sanctioned and funded violence against women. Not only are women two to three times more likely to undergo electroconvulsive therapy, but according to Sackheim, they are far more likely to experience brain damage than men.

Paivi Laine, a shock survivor, spoke next. In fall, 1983, she was a 28-year-old mother in an abusive marriage, feeling “isolated, alone and frustrated.” At the time, she held two jobs, cared for her children, and was definitely not suicidal. She sought advice from her family physician who referred her to Oshawa General Hospital, where she received strong anti-depression drugs. Shortly thereafter, doctors recommended ECT to “bump start” the medications. Since she had always trusted doctors’ advice without question, Paivi agreed to the treatment, despite the fact that she was not properly informed about the potential side effects and risks, and was not offered other alternative to treat her depression. Today, she says that support to deal with an abusive marriage and assistance to get out of the marriage is what she actually needed. Instead, she received thirty electroshock treatments. After each one, she awoke feeling like her “head was about to explode,” a feeling that lasted several days. She felt as if she was in a constant zombie-like state, and now, more than twenty years later, recognizes that she has permanent loss of memory, emotions, and creativity. She is frustrated at “not being able to connect as a whole being anymore.” The doctor’s impression is that “lack of emotion, and being docile and numb is better than depression.” Afterward, despite offering no assistance in dealing with her marital situation, the doctor told her, “you can either change your life, or I can bring you in every few months to get zapped.”

Don Weitz spoke after Paivi. He reported that between 2001 and 2002 (the most recent year for which the Ministry would release any figures), over 14,000 ECT procedures were done in Ontario, with over 80% of them being given to non-voluntary patients (which means that no consent was given). 68% of these were given to women, and of the women treated with shock, about one-third were women over 65, including 164 treatments given to women over 90 years old! Shock, Don says, is both a form of violence against women, and elder abuse. But the biggest problem is the mendacity of the psychiatric profession in not properly and adequately informing patients, minimizing the extent of side effects in spite of the recent scientific literature, under-reporting long-term side effects, and being in economic conflict of interest with respect to being prescribers of such treatment, suppliers and providers of electroshock equipment and services, recipients of public funding, and creators of the overwhelmingly positive and optimistic materials given to patients in lieu of authentic informed consent.

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