ECT in New Zealand and Queensland, 2016

Queensland, Australia, and New Zealand have similar-sized populations – about 4.7 million – and their psychiatrists share a professional body, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists. But use of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is very different in the two countries.

The New Zealand Ministry of Health has just published the annual report (2016) of the office of the director of mental health. In 2016, 251 people in New Zealand underwent a total of 2,746 treatments. There has been little change in the number of people receiving ECT over recent years (in 2012 for example 265 people received 2670 treatments). Women accounted for 62 per cent of ECT patients. Almost one-third of patients were aged over 65. Forty-one per cent of ECT was given to people who had not consented. All ECT in New Zealand is given in public, rather than private, hospitals.

In some ways the use of ECT in New Zealand is similar to that in England, Wales and Scotland: a low use, with women and older people over-represented in the statistics, and a relatively high proportion of patients treated without their consent. But, unlike England, Wales and Scotland, New Zealand retains mental health legislation that allows psychiatrists to give ECT to people who don’t want it, even if they have the capacity to make a decision. In 2016, ten of the 102 people treated without their consent were having their capacitious decision over-ruled.

Meanwhile, in Queensland, Australia, the mental health tribunal approved 506 applications to use ECT on non-consenting patients in the year 2015-16, according to an article in the Brisbane Times. That is five times as many as in New Zealand.

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3 Responses to ECT in New Zealand and Queensland, 2016

  1. Welton says:

    Has anyone read the book or seen the 1990 movie An Angel at My Table? It is based on the autobiographies of Janet Frame, a New Zealand author (her birth name was Nene Janet Paterson Clutha) — she wrote under the name Janet Frame. She received over 100 shock treatments, and was “scheduled for a lobotomy that was cancelled when, just days before the procedure, her début publication of short stories was unexpectedly awarded a national literary prize.” (Quotation is from wikipedia.) The movie was directed by Jane Campion and shows the plight of a sensitive, intelligent young woman whose family problems (including early deaths of two siblings) led to hospitalization at age 21 (in 1945) and a misdiagnosis of schizophrenia, She was very shy, and experienced terrible pain from her teeth — which were full of never treated decay, etc. She published many novels, poetry, short stories, etc. It is amazing that she survived all of this and went on to become a famous author with many awards for her writing, was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to literature, as well as The Order of New Zealand, that nation’s highest civil honor. She also also held foreign membership of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and, in her native New Zealand, received two honorary doctorates as well as the status of cultural icon.

    Anyway, her survival seems to me a miracle.

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