May 16, 2015: International Day of Protest Against Shock Treatment

Ted Chabasinski, JD
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On Saturday May 16, 2015, there will be demonstrations protesting shock treatment in many cities around the world.  This spontaneously-organized event has been endorsed by MindFreedom International, and as of this writing will include nineteen cities, fifteen of them in in twelve US states, plus four more in Canada, Scotland, Ireland, and the United Kingdom. More are pledging to demonstrate almost every day.

This will be a historic event for our movement for human rights in psychiatry.  I don’t know of any other time our movement has carried out such a coordinated action on this scale.

It was initiated by three shock survivors, myself, Mary Maddock in Ireland, and Debra Schwartzkopff of Portland, Oregon.  All three of us have experienced having parts of our lives taken away, our brains damaged, our memories erased of who we are and what we have experienced.

On January 21, I attended a memorial service to commemorate  the life of shock survivor Leonard Roy Frank (who died January 15).  Leonard was one of the most beloved and courageous activists in our movement, and I miss him terribly.  At the memorial, there was some talk of having  a demonstration in San Francisco  at the same time as the one already being organized by Debra for May 16 in  Portland.  The idea caught on like wildfire, and there is more and more enthusiasm for it.  I think it is an idea whose time has come.

Shock treatment is one of the most brutal practices in psychiatry, and ending it would not be just a little reform.  A hundred thousand people every year in the United States are shocked, and there are millions of people here and around the world who have had it.  An end to shock treatment would prevent the ruin of thousands of lives, and would be an important achievement for our human rights movement.

Furthermore, there is a lot of opposition to shock among the general public that we can encourage, and it is one practice of psychiatry that we have a fighting chance to defeat in the near future, even with our limited resources.

But more than that, from an antipsychiatry point of view, by emphasizing shock treatment, we are attacking psychiatry at one of its weakest points.  This is a strategy that almost all campaigns of people without a lot of resources must use against much stronger opponents.  This has been recognized for thousands of years, as far back as ancient China.

(For more on strategy to take away the power of psychiatry, please have a look at Bonnie Burstow’s excellent article in MIA, “On Fighting Institutional Psychiatry With the Attrition Model.”  Bonnie will be one of the organizers of the event in Toronto.)

Let’s force psychiatry to defend shock treatment.  It will make clear to the public the true nature of the profession.  As we all know (or ought to realize), the power of psychiatry is largely based on the false belief by the public that our “mental health” system is benevolent and helpful.  But I think few believe that shock treatment is benevolent and helpful.  Let’s show the world the real face of our “mental health” system.

And let’s use this to build our movement.  I am hopeful that the experience of working together will re-energize many of the groups that participate.  It will also, I hope, help us to overcome a lot of the infighting we do that prevents us from getting anything done and drains us all of the energy we need.  Let’s support one another, not tear each other down as we do too much of now.  (And I admit that I have sometimes been guilty of this myself.)

Finally, I want to encourage new people to take leadership in this.  If you don’t have much political experience , you may be thinking that you can’t do much to help.  But it is important to realize that there is a lot you can do.  Remember, there will be demonstrations like this in dozens of places.  If you can get together six, ten, twelve people in your city, you will not be alone, but part of a much larger movement.  Those of us who are psych survivors have been trained by psychiatry to think of ourselves as helpless and worthless.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Don’t be afraid to be a leader. We need you.

My first political activism was with the civil rights movement of the 1960’s.  It really started with just four brave black students who sat down at a segregated lunch counter and refused to accept being treated as less than human.  They didn’t have big numbers at first, but their courage soon led to a huge movement for liberation and social justice.

We can do that too.  Let’s show the world that we will not accept the role of passive victims that the “mental health” system encourages.

Let’s fight back!  We can do it!

***************************************

(To find out where you can join in one of the demonstrations, please go to ectjustice.com.   If you need more information you don’t find there, or would like to organize a demo in your area yourself,  please write [email protected])

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47 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Ted, I assume there are protests in South America but most likely not here. We got a shrink shortage here. Either way, I am a shock survivor 1995, 1996, 2000. Let me know if anyone needs anything. If there’s anywhere people can send in written statements I’d like to know that, too. Julie

  2. Thank you. I filled out the survey at the ECT site and left my name, saying it was okay to use my real name. I can recall the name of the shock doc, which I suppose they might find useful. This doc worked for McLean Hospital from 1996 until 2012. Does the shock doc recall the names and faces of those thousands of people whose lives he ruined?

    I am lucky that the effects weren’t permanent. Or at least that I was able to return to a point of functioning again. I couldn’t get dressed, brush my teeth, etc due to intermittent confusion that lasted for about a year and a half.

    Julie

  3. Is there a protest organized in Eugene Or? If so I want to join, where and when? Only psychiatrists should be electro shocked and only as many times as it takes to make them give up the idea of electro shocking others. I’m still very angry about having been force electro shocked. That can only change when the procedure is banned.

  4. Sounds like a strategy hoping for a positive outcome, Ted.

    Yet will this display of the movements real-life numbers and its overstated view of itself as “MindFreedom International,” have a negative outcome? Will it demonstrate a handful of people, with a need of subconscious “affect-regulation,” in order to feel strong and carry on the good fight, in face of an overwhelming majority attitude of indifference.

    The kind of existential indifference which underpins professional C.A.R.E. in our mental health facilities, which Mary O’Hagan points out, is the real-life attitude of COVER. ARSE. RETAIN. EMPLOYMENT.

    While one of long term advocates form a clear eyed perception in out mental health debate points out:
    “Discover and Recover on February 23, 2015 at 8:20 pm said:
    I’ve been an active reader and participant of MIA for almost 5 years, and I have to say, “What movement?” I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, but I see no movement on this site.”

    While I humbly suggest that the real-life issue in our common experience of mental dis¬ease and the current “treatment oriented” vocational attitude, is not just a human rights issue, but the meaning of being human, issue. A deeper perspective which will see R.D. Laing’s intuitive prophecy come true in this century, as the boi-medical perception of schizophrenia continues is inherent denial of the human condition.

    I would readers of our community to begin to notice, as Laing suggested, how we fail to notice, that we fail to notice, how we habitually cherry pick phrases from people like Laing, to satisfy our subconscious need for what developmental science refers to as “Affect Regulation & the Origins of The Self.” For in my humble opinion, the key to a survivor led breakthrough in mental health, is the accuracy of Laing’s:

    “We are all in a posthypnotic trance induced in infancy.” Because:

    The delusion is extraordinary by which we exalt language above nature:- making language the expositor of nature, instead of making nature the expositor of language. -Alexander B Johnson

    With our taken for granted adult functionality, having long forgotten our birth and the motion & e-motion, nature of being human.

    Sincere regards,

    David Bates.

  5. David , I do not think it is a hypnotic state of mind when a human having experienced a searingly painful injustice truly wishes to do something and attempts to prevent another and other humans to not have to be subjected to that same unbearable injustice or torture namely shock treatments in this case.
    I and others see that our efforts and numbers and even our methods my be too weak to prevail and that I am often reminded of the movie “Swing Kids” with Christian Bale seeming to parallel our predicament. But we must try and in trying hope for the answers we need to present themselves that lead us to succeed. Fred

  6. Ted,

    May I suggest that you list all the cities you already have leaders for in May, so people may try to attend if they live near any of those cities. And then request leaders from other cities and even smaller municipalities? Because it strikes me that a relatively large protest in a smaller area may draw even larger attention – even nationwide – than a relatively small protest in a larger city.

  7. They did ECT to my ‘girlfriend’ in the hospital the very first time I was subjected to inpatient after the pills made me sick.

    She was just rebellious constantly saying she hates this effing hospital… and was adamant about going to some friend from schools party and wanting out.

    The did that ECT crap and she came back all zombie like and had this “perma smile” stuck on her face at the same time. After that she didn’t hang out with us.

    Psychiatry can be a real atrocity , that’s why they keep the doors locked.

  8. This is absolutely excellent and I am in Portland, Oregon so will participate. I can not NOT participate, as I owe my ability to refuse ECT (begged not to have it actually) and to have it not be thought of as a ‘good’ form of treatment (it’s supporters say that it is used as a last ditch measure, when other treatments fail, yet that does not mean it should still be used… ) during some periods of severe depression during my 20’s to activists like yourself and many others.

    I was sickened to read of your history (just joined MAD), is amazing the recovery and life you have lived… and wanted to send you a private note as I was diagnosed Manic Depression in 1986 (San Francisco, CA) and learned about ECT and how many had fought to have it stopped (Berkely).

    I’m a long story (all of us are!) so will just do a quick add that I have written of my 30 years living with BP-1 disorder — being un-responsive to many meds (though stabilized me when was manic and had to be hospitalized), discrimination and harrassment I was subjected to by licensed health care providers (Ph.D’sat the University of San Francisco nursing school), experiences with involuntary comittiment plus the ‘other side of life’ ourside of the ‘illness realm’ such as alternative things I did that helped me to get better, positive life experiences, work, school and joy I’ve been fortunate to have had in my life, etc. in my book just published on Amazon: Bipolar 1 Disorder – How to Survive and Thrive.

    Feel ok plugging that due to the topic, will definitely be a part of the Portland protest. Thank you for sharing, Molly

  9. It is wonderful to see such a well-organized protest against shock. At the same time, I wonder how many more protests will it take? What gains have been made?

    I was distressed to read a Huffington Post article from one week ago making the case for ECT with claims that 23 ECT in a 7 month period had “saved” the writer’s life. I wonder how many depressed
    individuals this article “inspired” or “convinced” to get ECT.
    Is it a reality that a ban will never happen if all these “poster patients” and high profile individuals like Kitty and Carrie are promoting the newer, safer, life saving and efficacious ECT?
    Isn’t 35 years long enough to fight for a cause with no concrete gains?

    • I think the problem may be that the procedure has been ‘humanized’ to seem innocuous – no more hankerchiefs in mouth but anesthesia given, etc. so is not seen as ‘brutal’ anymore.

      And the simple reality that the memory loss which is a primary part of the treatment results sadly ‘helps’ some as it is a form of psychic sedation, erasing (temporarily or long-term) memories that may have been the cause of the depression or psychosis to start with.

      I don’t judge… and do not condemn anyone for saying they were helped by ECT it is just that there are more humane ways to treat mental illness and it is a procedure that was so barbaric in its inception, which makes it suspect in general. Only sadists inflict harm on others without acknowledging harmful effects… victimizing others is never ‘ok’ in a caring, just society.

      • “simple reality that the memory loss which is a primary part of the treatment results sadly ‘helps’ some as it is a form of psychic sedation, erasing (temporarily or long-term) memories that may have been the cause of the depression or psychosis to start with.”
        Well, if you go with that standard then lobotomy also “works”. As does a strong blow to the head. Or just killing someone – when you’re dead you’re neither “crazy” or depressed. It’s preposterous to say that depriving someone of cognitive abilities is medical treatment. And it’s even more ironic that this is proposed by people who will lock you up and needle rape you for even suggesting that you want to kill yourself. This is only 1000X worse than death – losing one’s identity.

        • Hi B,

          Please don’t take your anger out against me… the above was not in support of ECT – I am not a proponent, obviously. I was just stating that it is thought to have a ‘helpful’ effect on some due to memory loss… that is my understanding. I am against the procedure personally, I wish there were better treatments for severe depression.

          Suicidal depression that in non-responsive to medication is a horrible illness to experience – I know, I have been severely depressed when younger. One of my biggest fears when dealing with those states of bipolar illness was that I would be drugged against my will and forced ECT.

          I am very fortunate that did not happen. I wish others have not had the experience of being harmed by it.

          take care, Molly

          • I meant it as a general comment, not specifically to you – I think you’ve made your position clear in the first post… sorry if it sounded like that.

  10. Thanks for that B – sorry if I was being over-sensitive. Shock should be BANNED. There is NO evidence to support it’s medical use, and even the best of studies say the positive results are temporary (read up a bit this week, they say 4 weeks of improvement is the norm).

    There is abundance evidence of its HARM. And again, a just society does NOT inflict harm on others knowingly, especially the vulnerable members of society for the primary motive of profit-making – what drives the ECT industry imho.

    I feel it is sadistic in nature, in its inception and in its current use. Should be BANNED with other treatments studied better, new alternatives developed.

    Maybe sadder still is those who participate in the practice, feel much like I do but do not stand up for their beliefs, do not have the courage to protest.

  11. I honor your events to ban ECT and Beyond Today International will be hosting our events to ban forced ECT and support voluntary ECT. We ascribe to what I believe one of your co-founders and former executive directors believes in: freedom of choice. We hope for your views to continue to strengthen as all voices are needed to inform policy and hope we can all agree on some tenants of basic human rights.

    In solidarity.

    • If you say ‘support voluntary ECT’ – I think you are missing a key point in this whole protest.

      NO ONE wants ECT to be used as a medical treatment for anything – it is TORTURE. It is ABUSE. It has NO MEDICAL basis to be administered and is used on very vulnerable, ill people who are not in a position to make such a decision.

      The point is – it should be STOPPED. There is no ‘voluntary’ option being supported here – the reality is most who get it are manipulated into getting it (if not forced), are not informed of the RISKS and HARM that comes from it.

      ECT is brain damage. Damaging someone’s brain is NOT legitimate medical treatment. It is ABUSE.

      Please don’t support if you don’t understand the premise here.

      My thoughts, Molly

  12. I agree. I was in mental wards over 50 times, and not once did I see an example of anything resembling informing the patient. While it appeared to be a choice for many, done as free will, how could it be? No choice is free choice within the oppression of the locked ward. it was hardly informed. I was told that if I didn’t do it, I’d be depressed for life and I would never get out of it. However, no depression lasts forever. And they even called me “rapid cycling,” so it all made no sense. After they began the shock, I was so confused I couldn’t put a sentence together, never mind figure out how to say the word “No” and whom to say it to. Afterward, I was cognitively messed up. I know they were scared of a lawsuit. So my speech focuses on the coverup that was done to me after the shock. The lies and phony diagnoses that resulted were even more criminal than what happened in their shock torture chamber. Then, when they were still scared I’d figure it all out, they tried to put me into a state hospital to hide me away. This was terrifying to me and stole two years of my life. not only that, it tore my family apart and harmed my boyfriend, who watched it all in horror. I am a person who literally had asked for shock, then ended up harmed. If we were truly informed, not one person would agree to this barbaric practice. Listen to my speech May 16. Julie and Puzzle

  13. Hello, to anyone out there, I am an ECT survivor. I have written a speech for this occasion but have nowhere to deliver this speech. I am a professional writer with a master’s in creative writing which I earned with flying colors, against medical/psychiatric/bogus advice, in 2009. For the most part, my voice has gone unheard but I don’t really understand why this has happened.

    Either way, I have the whole speech written out. I am far away now, so I have no fear or retaliation. In my speech I don’t hesitate to name names of personnel and institutions involved in the crime subsequent coverup. I do not list statistics nor go into various discussions of the brain, on which I have no expertise (except that I own one). This is a story of what happened, how I felt during that time, how it deeply affected those around me that I loved, and how I now recall all of it, almost 20 years later.

    I am quite skilled at reading aloud to an audience, and rather fearless at it. I would be happy to read this over Skype or send an MP3 file. I can also send the document itself. The title is “Sweet Evening Breeze,” taken from the title of a song by John Mellancamp. If anyone in any city is lacking an ECT survivor willing to speak out, and wants this speech, let me know!

    Julie Greene