A Case of Hysteria

Just A Touch Of Electricity

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) and other procedures for treating the mentally ill began to face public criticism and litigation in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In that era, patients could still be forced to undergo ECT against their will. A group of former patients organized under the name Network Against Psychiatric Assault (NAPA) and petitioned the California legislature to adopt informed consent rules for mental health treatment. Assemblyman John Vasconcellos got Assembly Bill (AB) 4481 passed in 1974, which provided greater legal protections for the mentally ill. Under the new law, a physician recommending ECT was required to document its medical necessity. Both the patient and a professional committee had to sign off on it as well. To spur nationwide adoption of these protections, Ollie Bozarth and Jonika Upton testified to Congress in 1975 about their horrific ECT experiences. The benefits of ECT remain debatable and it is typically used only when all other options have failed. Modern ECT devices deliver a short, low-current pulse, which is thought to cause fewer cognitive effects. Today, antipsychotic drugs are overwhelmingly more popular modes of treatment.

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