Anticipation mounted as hundreds of activists, clergy, civil rights advocates and supporters lined up to march in protest of electroshock on children during the annual convention of the American Psychiatric Association. But no one could foresee what would happen next.
One would expect the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, the international mental health watchdog, to take a stand against electroshocking of children. But when CCHR takes that message to the heart of Atlanta during the annual convention of the American Psychiatric Association (APA)—and is joined by representatives of the NAACP, the Nation of Islam, 10,000 Fearless Men, Black Lives Matter and Concerned Black Clergy—one has to look deeper.
“Electroconvulsive Therapy,” otherwise known as “ECT” or electroshock treatment, is a controversial and “archaic technique invented in the 1930s, [which] sends jolts of electricity into the brain, inducing a seizure. It’s associated with numerous side-effects, including short and long-term memory loss, cognitive problems, unwanted personality changes, manic symptoms, prolonged seizures, heart problems and death,” reports Natural News.
Participants in the protest reported that bystanders were “shocked” to learn this practice is still common, stunned to learn that the APA is currently pressuring the Food and Drug Administration to expand its use against children. “You mean they still do that?” responded one of the march viewers, a security guard on the property where the APA event took place. “I thought that went out in the ‘40s!”
Not so, says Mental Health America, reporting that “ECT is administered to an estimated 100,000 people a year, primarily in general hospital psychiatric units and in psychiatric hospitals.” And this while FDA agencies are already aware it is a dangerous procedure. In fact, the FDA’s Office of Device Evaluation, a part of the Center for Devices and Radiological Health, issued a draft guidance in early 2016 recommending a “prominently placed” warning on ECT devices to include “The long-term safety and effectiveness of ECT treatment has not been demonstrated.”
The same report lists effects known to be associated with ECT, ranging from long-term problems with “autobiographical memory” (knowledge about one’s own life), to pain and skin burns, to “insufficient, or lack of breathing” and heart attack, stroke and death.
So as the march led to a panel discussion on ECT, and the panel discussion into a symposium the following day, attendees asked, “Why on Earth would anyone in their right mind push to use this against children?” Especially when one speaker, an ECT survivor who received “30 rounds of electroshock” in one year, at age 21, described how he had not one memory from his high school years, and broke into tears while recounting “sitting there, and my father having to teach me how to tie my shoes again.”
One participant seemed to have the answer. “This is unconscionable to even consider doing this to a child,” said Dr. Linda Lagemann, a clinical psychologist who retired after 23 years in practice. “Someone’s getting rich and someone’s getting hurt. This really must be stopped.”
Long-term Georgia State Senator Donzella James, speaking during the panel, called for state legislation to ban the use of ECT on children. She said Georgia’s provisions to protect children and others from ECT were grossly insufficient and cited a World Health Organization recommendation to governments that: “There are no indications for the use of ECT on minors, and hence this should be prohibited through legislation.”
The unanimous, resounding and spontaneous support for James’ proposal, a proposal so natural it should have long since been law, suddenly explained what brought together this particular mix of political persuasions, religious affiliations and socioeconomic delineations, and gave hope that, at least when it comes to our children, we can find unity amongst diversity.