Monday, 29 October 2012

women get ECT in Scotland twice as much as men

[updated information]

In Scotland the figures for ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) given to women is twice that of ECT given to men.  In the SEAN (Scottish ECT Accreditation Network) 2011 annual report, in the summary and key findings, page ix it states "More women than men received ECT (68% vs 32% of patients)" [update, 2012 report 71% women to 29% men] and says that it reflects the proportions of men and women being treated with depressive illness.  The median age is 57 for men, 59 for women.

I have concerns about the fact that twice as many women as men are given ECT in Scotland, many of them older women, regardless of whether there seems to be a correlation to treatment for depression.  For electroconvulsive therapy is still regarded by many as a controversial treatment which results in memory loss and brain damage.  [See article by Peter Breggin, testimony by electroshock survivor Leonard Roy Frank and article 'Electroshock as a form of violence against women' by Bonnie Burstow]

The SEAN report tells us that for 63% of patients getting ECT  this was as a result of "medication resistance to anti-depressants".  Which leaves 37% of people, two thirds of them women, getting ECT for other reasons.  The total number of 'episodes' in 2010 was 522 and total ECT treatments 4282, working out at around 8 shock treatments for every episode.  

Hope you're staying me regarding the statistics which can be mind boggling at the best of times and confusing when it's to do with something as controversial as brain shock treatment.  Which conjures up images, for me, of Dr Frankenstein and the film 'One flew over the cuckoo's nest'.  Add to this the fact that women in my family were given ECT involuntarily and you may have an idea as to where I'm coming from.

The SEAN report also mentions that 35% [2012 report 34%] of all patients were given ECT without being capable of giving consent (p7).  The report says this is an increase on the previous year's 27% rate of people incapable of consenting.  Therefore this means that in 2010 nearly a quarter of ECT treatments were given to women who weren't able to consent, around 1070 times.  If I've got my figures right.  And mostly they were administered twice weekly (p4).

It's good that the ECT figures in Scotland are available through SEAN and that the public can freely access them.  It means we can see what's happening with this treatment and try to make sense of the statistics.  It doesn't mean I'm any less concerned about twice as many women getting ECT.  And I would be even more concerned if the total numbers getting ECT were to increase.  

I am not keen on psychiatric drugs but I definitely don't want ECT given to me if I'm in mental distress.  We need alternatives to drug treatment and brain shocks.  I'm now 60 and more likely to be a candidate for ECT in my old age, being a woman, and with a label of schizoaffective disorder in my medical notes (an incorrect diagnosis that is written in indelible ink).  Will this influence my future treatment were I to become 'incapacitated' according to psychiatric 'professionals'?

[I'll be writing more about this subject in future blogs and also exploring the treatment of women in psychiatric hospitals, mixed gender wards, the use of compulsion/force and the paternalistic nature of psychiatry]


  1. I think there are two basic problems here:

    1 psychiatry sees distress as an illness so it likes medical treatments
    2 these treatments are damaging

    More women are depressed than men for social/psychologialc reasons. Psychiatry ignores that. I find the whole concept of, "Treatment Resistence," disturbing. It implies that staff are of no importance to the state of mind of the person using the service and that only the drugs and the ECT are imortant. It completely decontextualises someones state of mind from thier experiences.

    Until the state starts to ask why more older women than older men are depressed inapropriate and damaging treatments are likely to continue. If it sin't ECT it will be something else.

    1. I don't agree with your premise that there are only two basic problems and think the main problems underpinning psychiatry is its patriarchal nature or paternalism. Whichever way you look at it. And I don't believe that more women are depressed than men but that more women talk about it, go to their GPs etc.

      I say that if twice as many men were getting forced ECT then psychiatry and society would be more concerned.

      However I do agree that calling distress a mental illness is problematic and that the psychiatric drugs treatments can be both disabling and damaging, in the short and long term.