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Happy Birthday Linda Andre!

Dec 20 2011 | Comments 18


It’s almost the end of the day, but not too late to wish mental health advocate, activist and author Linda Andre a very happy birthday. Andre is the author of Doctors of Deception: What They Don’t Want You to Know About Shock Treatment. Andre has probably done more than any other mental health advocate to draw attention to the problematic history of ECT and the corruption within the industry—and she did it all without help and with the force of the industry against her. For so many years she was a voice crying in the wilderness, but she never stopped. She is truly one of my heroes and an inspiration to me to keep going in the service of something you believe in.

liz | 5:19 PM | electroshock (ECT)

A Case for “Forced Treatment”?

Dec 19 2011 | Comments 6

Bipolar Burble blogger Natasha Tracy has a post up today about Laura’s Law (California), which mandates mental health treatment for people who are considered both severely ill and dangerously violent as a court-ordered condition of their living in the community. Unlike forced electroshock, mandated Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT) (which doesn’t include forced medication) is showing positive results. Tracy cites results from other states, which show that AOT “helps the seriously mentally ill by reducing homelessness (74%), suicide attempts (55%) and substance abuse (48%).” She also cites gains of the implementation of Laura’s Law, including reduced hospitalization and reduced incarceration.

If you have objections to AOT, check out Tracy’s post. You may find she engages your arguments—and dismantles them.

liz | 2:18 PM | bipolar disorder, criminal justice system, electroshock (ECT), assisted outpatient treatment, bipolar burble, forced electroshock, forced treatment, laura's law, natasha tracy

U.S. News & World Report, Did You Have Layoffs Too?

Jul 23 2009 | Comments 28

Because someone is not doing their homework over there. Here’s the headline/subhead from a recent USN&WR article:

ECT, checkered past and all, is making a quiet comeback

Doesn’t that sound kind of familiar? That’s because you’ve read it before — numerous times. I’d say the most recent comeback article was last year in Newsweek:

Shock therapy makes a quiet comeback

Or how about the AP:

Despite Infamy, Shock Therapy Makes a Comeback

How about this article from Maclean’s from a couple years ago:

Electroshock Therapy Making a Comeback

How about Time magazine in 1979?:

Comeback for Shock Therapy?

Or the New York Times in 1990?:

Health; The Quiet Comeback of Electroshock Therapy

This one is from four years ago:

Shock therapy makes comeback but remains controversial

You get the idea.

What do all these articles have in common? The suggestion that despite its gruesome reputation, due to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (a PR nightmare the APA still can’t get wake up from), it’s safe and — here’s the kicker — enormously effective. The signposts in the articles are all the same. There’s very little deviation from the boilerplate, which you can see in the headlines alone.

When is someone going to write an honest article about ECT that stuffs the “comeback” nonsense up the APA’s ass, where it belongs? Oh, wait, someone wrote a book about it, published by Rutgers University Press.

Folks, if you want to understand this industry, read Doctors of Deception by Linda Andre. ECT is just as fucked up as Big Pharma, if not more so, as big business goes.

Sorry I sound cynical; we had some layoffs here today, and pay cuts and furloughs and the other crap that goes along with a dying industry (journalism, not ECT). So I’m feeling down. But hey, if I can turn it into righteous anger, why not? It has to be good for something.

liz | 5:19 PM | electroshock (ECT), media

Dear God, Are You Serious?

Jul 14 2009 | Comments 4

Thanks to Susan S. for sending me an article about China using shock therapy to “cure” Internet addicts. It’s really hard to believe. From Yahoo! Finance:

Linyi Mental Health Hospital in eastern Shandong province used the treatment as part of a four-month program that has so far treated nearly 3,000 youths, the China Youth Daily newspaper has reported, citing the psychiatrist who runs it, Yang Yongxin.

The specifics of the treatment come from the Guardian UK:

According to the Beijing News, Yang said he had created the unique “xingnao” (”brain-waking”) therapy which involved sending a small current through the brain. He added that the stimulation might cause pain but was very safe and would not harm children in any way.

An earlier report by the Information Times claimed patients received electroconvulsive therapy if they broke any of the centre’s rules, which included eating chocolate, locking the bathroom door, taking pills before a meal and sitting on Yang’s chair without permission. It said parents had to sign a contract acknowledging their child would be given ECT before admission.

Hmm. Why do I get the feeling this Dr. Yang fellow has some control issues?

The Guardian also asked a young victim about his experience. It doesn’t sound like he was given anesthesia. Nor does it sound like ECT was used therapeutically.

“It was really painful – just like a needle piercing through my brain,” he said.

“I can’t remember how many times [they gave me shocks], but it must have been dozens. They would let me rest for a while then give me another. The session lasted about half an hour,” he said.

“I struggled and tried to get up and they said it meant I still did not agree to stay so they gave me more shocks for another half an hour … I agreed to stay because I really couldn’t stand any more of it.”

He received ECT six or seven times at the hospital, mostly for a few minutes at a time.

“I think at the beginning they just wanted to create fear so you would follow orders. The shocks were punishment if I did anything wrong,” he said.

When he tried to escape, he was subjected to another half hour of ECT.

“The treatment should last four months, but my father started to think it was all a con,” he said. “He realised that in the classes no one could express opinions contrary to what they were told. Also, when I told him how painful the shocks were and he saw himself how young people grimaced before they went into that room, his heart ached for me.”

Sounds terrible, doesn’t it? But let’s not get all self-righteous about China’s human rights violations. I have a feeling this kind of thing happens in corners of the U.S. too.

liz | 3:08 PM | electroshock (ECT)

Grandfathering ECT Machines

Apr 17 2009 | Comments 10

I only had one grandfather as I grew up (the other was dead before I was born — a good thing, I was told), and he wasn’t much good to me. Mainly, he ignored me. I would see commercials on TV about warm, loving grandfathers and I would think, What the hell went wrong? That didn’t look at all familiar.

But the kind of grandfather I speak of now is different. It’s about ECT machines — the little zappity zappers they use to jolt you with electricity to make you convulse so that you can have relief from your symptoms for, at best, a few weeks, but be left with side effects that can last years. And this isn’t just my opinion on it; the industry itself concedes that benefits are not long-term, but negative effects can be.

The best, most comprehensive book on this matter is by Linda Andre, long-time advocate and thorn in the side of ECT manufacturers and practitioners. It should be noted that for years she was dismissed as something of a kook, but she never stopped working to have the practice reassessed. This year she had a book, Doctors of Deception: What They Don’t Want You to Know About Shock Treatment, published by Rutgers University Press, and I’m still working my way through it. I’m not aware of any other book that treats the subject so thoroughly, or indeed at all.

I’ve “known” Linda Andre for years. We’ve corresponded on and off, as I’ve written about my own experience with ECT and also subjected the industry to scrutiny. At some point I felt I was repeating myself and that it was hopeless, but Andre never gave up. Yesterday she sent me the following email:

Now: I won’t take no for an answer on this one. Have you read that the FDA is waking up and calling on the manufacturers of shock machines (and other medical devices) to submit evidence of safety and efficacy for their products? I just forwarded you one of the news items. It has been in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

The manufacturers are supposed to submit something by the end of the summer. Of course they won’t, and the FDA will just go ahead and reclassify the device as it’s always wanted to. Unless we can prevent it by public outcry!

Basically this is validating the story I just broke in the book about how the devices have never been tested, though of course the book adds the story of how patients and doctors battled over this for decades.

She’s right, of course. The machines have not been regulated because they’ve been grandfathered out of regulation, which is patently insane. This means they’ve never been approved for safety, so a machine can be as trashed and iffy as an old radio in a garage, and no one would be the wiser.


WASHINGTON, April 9 — The FDA is finally closing a loophole that has allowed high-risk medical devices to remain on the market in the absence of clinical test data.

The agency decreed Wednesday that it would require safety and efficacy data from manufacturers of certain medical devices who, thanks to a quirk in previous regulations, never had to prove their safety or efficacy.

The devices fall into 25 categories and include automated external defibrillators, female condoms, and electroconvulsive therapy machines. Their manufacturers have until this August to submit data on these devices.

They may be required to go through the agency’s full premarket approval process as if they were entirely new products.

In 1976, the agency began requiring that new medical devices undergo a rigorous premarket approval process in which manufacturers either had to prove they were safe and effective, or show that they weren’t high-risk and therefore didn’t need such stringent review.

In this context, high-risk means that the device’s failure to function properly could lead to serious or life-threatening complications. But companies with high-risk products already on the market were allowed to keep selling them, with the understanding that eventually the agency would require them to submit the same type of data needed for newer products.

In the case of electroconvulsive therapy machines, for example, there are eight companies that market the devices, none of which were ever required to undergo premarket approval.

Rather, they all were cleared under the so-called 510(k) process, which automatically okays the devices if it is “substantially equivalent” to an already approved product, called a predicate device.

Since no ECT machine went through the premarket approval process, there is no predicate device. Hence, manufacturers of ECT machines must seek approval for them as if they were new to the market.

Keep your eyes peeled for more.

liz | 10:28 AM | electroshock (ECT)

Go See Linda Andre!

Mar 27 2009 | Comments 4

One of my heroes, activist Linda Andre, is in Philadelphia this weekend in support of her excellent new book Doctors of Deception: What They Don’t Want You to Know About Shock Treatment. She’ll be appearing tomorrow. Info:

A New Life Peer Resource Center
3119 Spring Garden St.
Philadelphia, PA 19104
March 28th at 2:00 p.m.

I’ll be there too.

liz | 5:29 PM | electroshock (ECT)

Forced Electroshock: NEVER ACCEPTABLE

Mar 18 2009 | Comments 2

The latest on the appalling case of Ray Sanford. As a survivor of electroshock therapy, I can assert that it destroys memory and cognitive function. That’s not to say it isn’t valuable for some people, but it should never be forced on someone who doesn’t want it. As Sanford’s mother says, a woman with breast cancer isn’t forced to have chemo. It may not be a pristine analogy, but it’s certainly evocative.

liz | 10:30 AM | electroshock (ECT)