Saturday, November 28, 2009

Electric shock therapy being used on troubled Victorian teenagers

Shock therapy

A boy receives electric shock treatment. Picture: AP Source: Herald Sun

ELECTRIC shock therapy is being used on deeply troubled Victorian teenagers in a last-ditch bid to cure their mental illness.

Documents obtained under Freedom of Information legislation reveal that eight juveniles and a further 107 young adults were given controversial electro-convulsive treatment in 2007-08.

The therapy has split the medical community, with some experts claiming it could harm children.

The revelations have put more pressure on Community Services Minister Lisa Neville, who is facing repeated calls for her resignation amid a continuing crisis in the state's child protection system.

She insists the use of electric shocks to the brains of children was heavily regulated.

Victoria's Chief Psychiatrist, Dr Ruth Vine, said: "The very few adolescents treated with ECT have severe mental illness that has not responded to other treatments - or need very urgent intervention for severe depression or acute psychosis."

But Associate Prof Dr Nick Tonti-Filippini, of the health ethics committee of the National Health and Medical Research Council, said: "I regard the use of ECT on children as experimental. I'm concerned about the lack of evidence that it is safe."

Department of Human Services documents obtained by the Herald Sun show 1815 mentally ill Victorians were treated with Electro-Convulsive Therapy in 2007-2008.

Eight of those were under 18, each treated an average of more than four times.

A further 107 aged 18 to 24 also underwent the treatment. And more than 270 Victorians over the age of 75 also received ECT.

The treatment is used only on severely ill patients and is heavily regulated by the Department of Human Services.

Patients sometimes suffer memory loss and confusion, and, in extreme cases, amnesia.

Dr Tonti-Filippini said: "Parents are not informed about the lack of safety evidence before they agree to let children undergo the treatment. I would like to see its use reviewed by a human research ethics committee."

Shadow health minister Mary Wooldridge said the use of ECT was "disturbing".

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