A MIND TO END SHOCK THERAPY
Memory loss a significant side effect of treatment, say victims and
May 07, 2007 04:30 AM
Shock therapy stole a part of Paivi Laine's memory, but it didn't take
away her concern for others.
Laine is fighting to end the practice of electroconvulsive therapy,
as ECT, to treat depression.
She received the treatment in 1983 when she was a frazzled young
Oshawa with two children, two jobs and a rocky marriage.
"I was afraid of the therapy," she says. "But doctors were like gods.
needed to trust your doctor. And I didn't have any outside support. I
know about the memory loss, until after."
She has no memory of the time during her treatment and today has
difficulty remembering things from one day to the next. She has also
deep feelings, she says.
"I'm sad because a part of me is missing. I'm 52 years old and I am
searching for that part of me. My daughter has drive and passion. I used
have it, too, but it has been stolen away from me."
Remarried now and living in the country east of Toronto where she can
enjoy gardening, Laine will be telling her story Thursday at a Toronto
conference organized by the Coalition Against Psychiatric Assault
She'll also take part in a Mother's Day March to stop the psychiatric
treatment. The march, at 1:15 p.m. next Sunday, leaves the Clarke
of Psychiatry at College St. and Spadina Ave. and goes to Queen's Park
Shy and soft-spoken, Laine is willing to put herself in the spotlight
alert people that ECT continues to be used in Canada and that there can
serious side effects.
Once a creative individual, she now has difficulty even putting things
down on paper.
"Since then, it's been like being on the outside of a window, looking
Memory loss is a common side effect of ECT, says Bonnie Burstow,
co-founder of CAPA and a professor of adult education and community
development at U of T's Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. Her
field of expertise is trauma.
She calls the memory loss suffered by some patients "brain damage" and
equates it to the effects of hitting someone on the head "with a
Another disturbing aspect of this treatment, primarily used for
depression - which involves sending more than 100 volts of electricity
through the brain via electrodes to induce a seizure or convulsion - is
the majority of patients are women, Burstow says.
Young women struggling with new babies and elderly women are the two
groups of patients most commonly prescribed this therapy, says Burstow.
is why the coalition is organizing its rally for Mother's Day under the
slogan, "Stop shocking our mothers and grandmothers."
Burstow's study of ECT from a feminist perspective, "Electroshock as a
Form of Violence Against Women," has appeared in the U.S. publication
Journal of Violence Against Women.
"It's a form of head injury," she says. "Doing nothing is better than
doing something that harms them."
Burstow acknowledges that most people believe ECT has been
although roughly 2,000 people each year receive it in Ontario hospitals.
one time, the controversial treatment caused physical damage to patients
convulsed. It is now administered under a general anesthetic, which
reduces the bodily seizure.
Dr. David Goldbloom, senior medical advisor at Toronto's Centre for
Addiction and Mental Health, says the treatment at his institution is
for those with moderate to severe depression where drugs or other
haven't worked or are not advised.
For example, elderly people may be on medications that make additional
drug therapy inappropriate, he says.
Women in society have about double the rate of depression of men,
Goldbloom says explains the higher proportion of women receiving ECT.
Every treatment has some side effect, he adds, acknowledging that
loss and headaches can result. However, he says, when other treatments
ECT, which has a success rate of 70 to 80 per cent, is used.
"ECT is not typically a first line of response."
Wendy Funk, 50, was another young mother of two who suffered memory
after receiving a series of ECT treatments in 1989. Now living in the
Funk says she was literally "tricked" into going to hospital in Medicine
Hat, Alta., where she was given drugs to treat depression, followed by
She lost her memory and didn't even know her own name. She's since
dogged by an inability to remember many things day to day. The treatment
meant an end to the law school studies she'd begun before treatment.
Her two children, now 27 and 25, witnessed their mother's difficult
"It was quite traumatic for them. I didn't know who they were."
But Funk also found joy - she had another child, now 14, and has
a love of music.
She believes the reason people think shock therapy has died out is
no one wants to talk about it because of the stigma attached. "It's
shameful. Nobody wants to admit they had it."
But more women are coming forward with their stories as the coalition
lobbies for change.
Sue Clark-Wittenberg, of Ottawa, was 17 in 1973 when her father signed
permission for her to receive shock therapy. She has been told she
"God, someone help me!" as they led her away for treatment.
She's received various diagnoses for her depression and suicidal
but says she has not been on any medication or in therapy for many
One of her big regrets is not getting a degree. "I couldn't go to
university because I couldn't remember. Before I was shocked, I was top
my class. I was good in school."
Chatty and funny, Clark-Wittenberg keeps notes on everything because
memory is so poor. For instance, she must write down all appointments
then leave herself a prompt to order her transportation a day in
"It's chaotic," says Clark-Wittenberg who is in a wheelchair because
arthritis, "I can't remember from day to day."