Horrific news – Toddlers are being given ECT

in Australia –


“Child Shock Therapy”

by Eleni Hale, January 25, 2009


CHILDREN younger than four who are considered mentally disturbed are being treated with controversial electric shock treatment.

Medicare figures show the use of Electroconvulsive Therapy has tripled in Victoria in the private health sector alone in six years.

A VicHealth report confirms more than 18,000 treatments were conducted in Victoria in 2007-2008.

Federal Government statistics show the use of ECT – an electric shock delivered straight to the brain – in the state’s private health system increased from 1944 treatments in 2001-2002 to 6009 in 2007-2008.

About 12,000 treatments were performed in the public health system last financial year.

Medicare statistics record 203 ECT treatments on children younger than 14 – including 55 aged four and younger.

Two of the under-4s were in Victoria.

Last financial year, 6197 ECT treatments were given to Victorians against their will.

This news comes as the Western Australian Government moves to ban ECT procedures for children under 12.

The Victorian Government would not say if it would follow.

The figures have shocked some experts.

Prof Pat McGorry, chair of the National Youth Mental Health Foundation, said ECT treatment for children whose brains were still forming was worrying.

“That is of great concern, a very worrying trend and we need to know why,” he said.

“Why has its use increased at that rate? I am shocked and amazed that children that young are being treated this way.”

Though doctors are still mystified as to how it works, ECT is used to treat mental disorders such as manic depression and psychosis.

The figures show nearly three times as many women had shock treatment compared with men.

Side effects include memory loss, seizures and headaches.

Modern treatment involves anaesthetic before each ECT treatment, which occur at intervals during a few weeks.

Increasing numbers of patients who had been forced into ECT treatment were contacting the Mental Health Legal Centre claiming they were tortured, Vivienne Topp, a lawyer and policy adviser said.

Bioethicist Assoc Prof Nicholas Tonti-Filippini supported ECT on children, saying some toddlers were “disturbed”.

Psychiatrist Dr Paul Skerritt, of the Australian Medical Association, said ECT sent the patient into an “epileptic” type fit, which helped rewire the brain.

“It is one of the most effective and safe treatments, though I would not be applauding its use in children. These figures are very high,” he said.



Electroshock for Children and Involuntary Adults

by Dr. Peter R. Breggin


America and Australia are two countries I vastly admire. Nonetheless, they are continuing to abuse psychiatric patients with electroshock treatment (ECT). In America involuntary adults are being shocked despite the best efforts of psychiatric reformers (Oaks, 2009). In Australia psychiatrists have taken shock treatment to a new level of barbarity by shocking 55 toddlers age four and younger in Victoria (Hale, 2009).

The controvery over shocking children has a long history. In 2000 before his untimely death, Steve Baldwin, at the time a professor of psychology in Australia, and his co-author Melissa Oxlad wrote a book reviewing and condemning the practice throughout the world.

Electroshock “treatment” was discovered in the 1930s in a slaughterhouse in Italy. Before being killed, hogs were knocked out by a jolt of electricity to the head and brain. If they weren’t slaughtered, after a while the animals awoke and were able walk around on wobbly legs. Two Italian psychiatrists learned about this phenomenon and immediately tested it on an involuntary patient. The patient wasn’t knocked out by the first jolt and struggled from the table screaming “Murder!” The doctors gave him a bigger jolt. When he awoke, he was docile and no longer complained. A miracle treatment was born and the two psychiatrists became famous.

Why in the world would medical doctors be so excited about a jolt of electricity that knocked out a hog without killing it? This was the era that originated lobotomy–slicing up, burning or poisoning the highest centers of the human brain. It was also the era that originated insulin coma therapy–putting patients into a coma with overdoses of insulin that destroyed brain cells in great batches throughout the brain. Doctors were looking for new ways to inflict controlled damage on the patient’s brain without completely destroying its function.

In those early days, many psychiatrists voiced the opinion that brain damage was good for the “mentally ill.” It certainly made the patients more docile and hence easier to manage in giant state lockups. Only in more recent times, in response to criticism, did shock advocates begin to claim that the treatment was harmless and corrected biochemical imbalances.

Shock treatment damages the brain through a variety of mechanisms. First, it causes grand mal seizures that are much more intense and destructive than those spontaneously experienced by people with severe epilepsy. These multiple seizures (typically 3 per week for a few weeks or more) exhaust and damage neurons or brain cells. Second, the electric current by itself damages the brain by disrupting electrical function, over-heating brain tissue, stimulating massive hypertension inside the brain, breaking down the blood brain barrier, and causing tiny blood vessels to spasm shut, depriving neurons of oxygen and nutrients. Commonly, patients undergo several seconds after ECT in which their brain flatlines–zero detectable electrical activity–a sign of permanent brain death when extended for minutes. Animal studies have shown small hemorrhages and cell death throughout the brain and in the frontal lobes after exposure to doses of ECT that are smaller than nowadays used in clinical practice. Human studies show that former ECT patients suffer from persistent loss of mental function and dementia (see Breggin, 2008; Sackeim et al., 2007).

Shock advocates have proven impervious to science and to public criticism. Like men who beat their wives and abuse their children, shock doctors escalate their violence when criticized. Like other abusers, criticism by itself will not stop them. Shock treatment must be banned. We can begin by banning it on children eighteen and younger, and involuntary adults.

I began writing about this abusive practice exactly thirty years ago when I published the first and only medical book devoted to looking at the damaging effects of this treatment (Breggin, 1979). I have written scientific articles on the damaging effects of ECT (Breggin, 1998) and updated the scientific facts in my latest medical book, Brain-Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry: Drugs, Electroshock and the Psychopharmaceutical Complex (2008).

I have not been alone in criticizing the “treatment” as wholly ineffective (Colin, 2006) and as dangerous. One heroic shock survivor, Leonard Frank, spent decades re-educating himself and learning to live with long-term harmful effects, devoting himself to reform in psychiatry, and even to writing one of the best scientific critiques of ECT (Frank, 1990).

Lately, doctors who recommend or carry out ECT have been taking heat in the U.S. court system. In June 2005 in south Carolinia, I was the medical expert in the first ever malpractice trial in which a jury found a doctor negligent for referring a patient for ECT (see for details). Not long ago, I was the medical expert in a malpractice case that was settled for a very large sum. It involved a man whose life was ruined by considerably more than 100 treatments (a huge number!) over a two-year period.

Meanwhile, the shock advocates themselves have published a long-term followup of patients treated with electroshock and found massive harm to the brain and mind, including persistent dementia (Sackeim et al., 2007). How have the shock doctor’s responded to the latest confirmation that their treatment destroys the brain and mind? Not a single one has expressed any caution following the publication of the study. As we now see, they have pressed harder to enforce it on children and involuntary adults.

Shock treatment has been going since 1938–more than 70 years. Let’s celebrate the passing of its 70th anniversary by putting a stop to it, once and for all.


Baldwin, Steve, and Oxlad, Melissa. Electroshock for minors: A fifty-year review. West Port, Connecticut: Greenwood Press.

Breggin, P. (1979). Electroshock: Its brain-disabling effects. New York: Springer Publishing Company.

Breggin, P. (1992). The return of ECT. Readings: A Journal of Reviews and Commentary in Mental Health, 3 (March, No. 1), 12-17

Breggin, P. (2008). Brain-Disabling treatments in psychiatry. New York: Springer Publishing Company.

Breggin, P. (1998). Electroshock: Scientific, ethical, and political issues.” International Journal of Risk & Safety in Medicine 11, 5-40. (PDF file)

Frank, L. (1990). Electroshock: death, brain damage, memory loss, and brain washing. Journal of Mind and Behavior, 11, 489-512.
Hale, Eleni. Child Shock Therapy. Melbourne Herald Sun, January 25, 2009.

Oaks, David. (2009)

Ross, Colin (2006). The sham ECT literature: Implications for consent to ECT. Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, 8, 17-28.

Sackeim, H., Prudic, J., Fuller, R., Keilp, J., Lavori, P. and Olfson, M. (2007). The cognitive effects of electroconvulsive therapy in community settings. Neuropsychopharmacology, 32, 244-254.

Dr. Breggin’s latest book is Medication Madness: A Psychiatrist Exposes the Dangers of Mood-Altering Medications (2008) and his revised and updated website is 


Leonard Roy Frank said children labeled “autistic” are now being targeted for electroshock (ECT). Psychiatrist Lee Wachtel of Baltimore’s Kennedy Krieger Institute reports on “the first documented case of a young autistic child who successfully improved self-injury behaviors after receiving ECT.” The experimental subject was an 8 year-old-boy “known as D.”


The Johns Hopkins News-Letter

Case study suggests new therapy for autism

Issue date: 2/26/09
In recent years autism has been the focus of much attention. Parents worry about identifying the disorder in their children at a young age.                  

Scientists puzzle over the combination of biological and environmental factors that lead to autism, as well as how best to treat this enigmatic condition. 

A new case report suggests an intriguing new approach for correcting some of the most severe behavioral problems associated with autism. 

Autism is a developmental disorder that is characterized by deficits in language, social and behavioral skills. Autism represents a broad spectrum of disorders that range from mild to severe. A particularly severe symptom includes self-injury, or the act of hitting oneself so that it leads to tissue damage. 

Many symptoms of autism are treated through medications or behavioral approaches. Both approaches often work well for individuals and have even proven effective in preventing self-injury. 

Lee Wachtel of the Kennedy Krieger Institute presented a case report of an eight-year-old autistic boy with severe self-injury behaviors that were not responsive to treatment in a recent journal article. 

Wachtel collaborated with colleagues at Hopkins Hospital and the University of Mississippi Medical Center, and they proposed the controversial treatment of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) in this case. 

They report that this boy, known as D., maintained self-injurious behaviors despite many different medical and behavioral interventions. This boy often was restrained with padded equipment to prevent serious injury from occurring. However, he still attempted to make hitting movements while restrained. 

When observed without restraints over a 24-hour period, D. was reported to have hit himself in the head an average of 109 times per hour. Because of the high frequency of self-injury incidents, D. was unable to participate in structured school programs or family activities. 

D.’s physicians felt that this damaging behavior might be ameliorated through ECT. ECT maintains a link with the shock therapy of early psychiatry, which was used on patients with a variety of mental illnesses.

ECT is still widely used as a treatment for severe depression. Wachtel and colleagues report that ECT has been successful in improving self-injurious behaviors in patients with mental illnesses, yet it is not often used in young children.         

Wachtel and colleagues were able to successfully treat D. with ECT, resulting in a large decrease in the amount of self-injurious incidents per hour. He dropped from 109 hits per hour to 19. This drastic decrease allows D. the possibility of an improved quality of life. He is able to attend educational programs, behavioral therapies and family activities.

A main cause of concern for children exhibiting this behavior is the risk of a head or brain injury, which could possibly be life-threatening. Without ECT treatment, D.’s only options were to remain confined by padded restraints or to risk severe injury.  





ECT was administered three times a week for a period of five weeks. In each administration, D. was given an anesthetic and muscle relaxant before the therapy commenced. 

D. received bilateral treatment, which means that one electrode was placed on either side of the head. Electrical impulses flow through the electrodes and into the brain. 

While the exact mechanism of how ECT works is not known, the authors postulate that several neurotransmitter systems may be affected. These systems may help reverse some of the characteristic behaviors of autism. 

Wachtel notes that this is the first documented case of a young autistic child who successfully improved self-injury behaviors after receiving ECT.




Report Receives Worldwide Press Coverage

Following a two-year investigation,
Mental Disability Rights International (MDRI)
released the findings on Sept. 28, 2005 in
a report detailing the human rights abuses
perpetrated in Turkey against children and
adults with mental disabilities.

_Behind Closed Doors: Human Rights Abuses
in the Psychiatric Facilities, Orphanages
and Rehabilitation Centers of Turkey_,
describes the widespread use of
electroconvuslive or "shock
treatment (ECT) on psychiatric patients
as young as 9 years old - without
without the use of anethesia 
The investigators also found evidence of
children dying from starvation,
dehydration and lack of medical care in
so-called residential Rehabilitation Centers.

Locked away and out of public view, people
with psychiatric disorders as well as
people with intellectual disabilities,
such as mental retardation, are subjected
to treatment practices that are tantamount
to torture.

Inhuman and degrading conditions of
confinement are widespread throughout
the Turkish mental health system.

This report documents Turkey's violations
of the European Convention for the
Prevention of Torture (ECPT), the
European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR),
the UN Convention on the Rights of the
Child (CRC) and other internationally
accepted human rights and disability
rights standards.

Why I believe the use

of electroshock therapy on

children is unconscionable


October 1999

Kathryn Jackson

Steve Baldwin Professor of psychology, Teeside University

Most people do not know that children as young as three have been given electro-shock treatment, sometimes without parental consent. The most vulnerable and needy members of society – infants, children and teenagers – are often given toxic drugs and when these do not work, they can be given electric shock as well. These children need compassion, understanding and protection. It is indefensible and unconscionable to give them electroshock.

In the United Kingdom, the Department of Health does not keep or make public figures relating to the number of children shocked. In the United States, it is estimated that between 500 and 3,500 are given electroshock yearly.

Electroshock has been used on children since 1947. An electric current is passed through the brain to stimulate a physical condition. It is equivalent to having a closed head injury and a major epileptic fit. It is a major trauma that does permanent damage to the child’s developing neurological system, a form of abuse masquerading as treatment.

Psychiatrists say they use electroshock as a “treatment of last resort” but in fact often use it as a first or second choice. They say it is safe, reliable and effective. This is not true. In the old days, before they used sedatives and muscle relaxants, spasms caused horrific injuries. Now, pre-op drugs calm the spasms and mask the pain. If you talk to children after electroshock, they say it was painful. They also say the memory loss is permanent and irreversible. I have met adults who had electroshock as children, and they still suffer from memory loss.

The children involved are often very bright. They may have been abused, neglected or simply left unchallenged. Referred to psychiatrists, they find themselves drugged, sometimes hospitalised, and then subjected to electroshock. The treatment they receive is based on the idea that they have a “broken brain” that needs fixing. On this biological view, you look for a magic bullet – a pill. If that does not work, you turn to technology in the form of a shiny machine – the electric shock machine – to do the trick. The public has been duped into thinking this is the only way.

There are 230 tried-and-tested therapies that could be used instead. Behaviour modification, family therapy, counselling – these are all effective.

I have worked in a maximum security hospital for three years. I have treated some of the most dangerous people in Britain. If it is possible to help them without drugs or shock, why is it not possible to do the same with disturbed children? What reason could there be to send electrical current through their brains? This is a barbarous practice.













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