They are lost years for Linda Andre.
Andre was a graduate student studying writing and photography at New
York University when she was subjected to involuntary electroshock
therapy in 1984 during a period of severe depression and commitment to
a psychiatric hospital.
years were taken away from me, just erased. I have no memory of several
years after I was told shock treatment was harmless. I'll never get
those years back," said Andre, author of a new book critical of the
controversial treatment in which a jolt of electricity is sent though
electrodes attached to a person's temples at a level that produces a
grand mal seizure in the brain.
The 49-year-old New York City
resident was in Albany this week to lobby legislators to pass a bill
banning shock treatment on children and to take part in a protest in
front of the state Office of Mental Health. She also planned to sign
copies of her book, "Doctors of Deception: What They Don't Want You to
Know About Shock Treatment," recently published by Rutgers University
Andre has become a leading voice in a national debate over
electroshock treatment, pitting patients who say they received relief
from crushing depression by being shocked against people who say it did
not work and left them with serious memory loss and other cognitive
Electroshock treatment, which is legal in New York
and most states, is depicted in memorable and horrifying scenes in
movies ranging from "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" to "The
The American Psychiatric Association and other
medical experts, however, as well as federal and state regulators,
consider shock treatment done with a patient's consent and under
accepted guidelines to be a relatively safe and effective means to
combat severe and chronic depression among patients who have considered
suicide and for whom other treatments have not worked.
refined equipment and techniques have improved shock treatment to the
point that it no longer resembles the barbaric, gruesome cinematic
images or the way it was routinely administered as recently as two
decades ago, its supporters say.
A leading proponent of shock
treatment is Kitty Dukakis, the wife of former presidential candidate
and Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, who in her 2006 book, "Shock,"
credited the "last resort" treatment with saving her life after a
lifetime of depression, battles with drug and alcohol addiction and 25
years of taking antidepressants.
But a group of advocates, led by
Andre, are seeking an outright ban of electroshock treatment, as a
handful of states, including Texas, have adopted.
"There is no
such thing as a safe amount of shock. That's a myth. Any current
through your brain is too much current," Andre said.
in advance of Tuesday's protest, state OMH officials released a policy
advisory that requires tighter restrictions and additional limits on
the use of shock treatment, also known as electroconvulsive therapy, on
children under the age of 16.
Among the new policy requirements for patients under 16 are these:
A thorough psychiatric assessment by independent experts.
Written consent of the parents or legal guardians, along with written consent of the child when feasible.
A medical examination to screen for conditions that could increase risk of impairments.
A test of memory skills before, just after shock treatment and several months later as a follow-up.
In practice, shock treatment is rarely administered to children in New York.
the past three years, no children were given shock treatment in a dozen
state-operated psychiatric facilities that treat children. About four
children on average were treated with shock by private psychologists,
according to OMH records.
Among teens between 16 and 18, an
average of about 35 youths were given shock treatment each of the past
three years, all by private psychiatrists and none at state facilities.
adult psychiatric patients in the state, the use of shock treatment
peaked at about 2,000 individuals in 1999 and has since declined to an
average of about 1,600 adults each year currently.
"I know people
on both sides of the fence on this issue and they're both right," said
John Daniels, a special assistant to the commissioner of OMH who
spearheaded the new policy for shock treatment on children.
true that people like Linda were irreparably harmed years ago. It's
also true that other people right now say nothing else helped and this
saved their life," he said.
Harvey Rosenthal, executive director
of the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services, an
advocacy group, praised the efforts of Andre but stopped short of
supporting an outright ban if strict regulations, oversight and
informed consent are enforced.
"Linda and other advocates have battled courageously to bring about long-overdue regulations and protections," Rosenthal said.
The crux of the issue for Daniels is informed consent.
sides have very strong opinions on this, but the last thing I'd want is
a group of protesters banning a private decision based on free choice,"
Paul Grondahl can be reached at 454-5623 or by e-mail at email@example.com.