Dáil debates

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Mental Health (Amendment) Bill 2008 [Seanad]: Second Stage


7:45 pm

Photo of Dan NevilleDan Neville (Limerick, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Bill, which has been in gestation for seven years, and the Minister of State's decision to progress it. ECT is a controversial issue and, in that respect, the removal of the "unwilling" category from the 2001 Act is important. The question of medical professionals involving, consulting and informing mentally ill people has been neglected in psychiatry for decades, if not centuries. We must challenge that in this context.

ECT is a medical procedure in which an electric current is passed briefly through the brain via electrodes applied to the scalp to induce generalised seizure activity, as we often do not understand what takes place. The person receiving treatment is placed under general anaesthetic and muscle relaxants to prevent body spasms. ECT's purpose is to treat specific types of major mental illness. My mother, who was a psychiatric nurse in the 1940s, told me of the level of abuse of ECT at the time. We are moving from an era of extreme abuse to one in which there is a great deal more research and understanding of ECT and an appreciation of the need to inform the patient while ensuring that the psychiatric professional understands the situation.

It is the considered opinion of the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland that ECT is an important and necessary treatment for various serious psychiatric conditions, most commonly severe depression. For some severely ill patients who do not respond to any other treatment, there is no effective alternative. These patients would be seriously disadvantaged if they were denied access to a treatment that might restore them to health.

ECT has a bad image. In some ways, this is due to a misunderstanding, but it is also down to overtreatment or, in some people's words, the misuse or abuse of ECT. It raises anxiety and fear in many people and is usually seen as controversial. It should be used rarely and only where other treatments have failed or treatment is life saving. ECT is given in a clinical setting in the presence of the various psychiatric and other professionals required.

We must inform people of all aspects of mental health and reduce stigma. Like many of those aspects, we need the general public to be informed of ECT so that, when it is proposed by the psychiatric profession, patients and their carers and families can challenge and seek understanding of why it is being administered, the likely outcome and the relevant safety procedures.


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