A Mother’s Story: “I was lied to and told electroshock was ‘safe’”

I am writing this article to protect children and the elderly. I am the mother of five and after learning of the promotion of electroshock therapy (ECT) being used on children and the elderly, I want to sound an alarm by sharing my first-hand knowledge.

I want to let others know what I went through 18 years ago when I agreed to electroconvulsive therapy. Like others I was lied to and told ECT was “safe” and that I might experience a mild headache, but no long term effects.

I was an Honors English student in high school and a creative writer. I never had a problem with misspelling or missing vocabulary prior to ECT, but I noticed it immediately afterwards. I thought my grammar and language skills, along with serious memory issues, might return to normal after a short time because my psychiatrist said there would be “no long term, memory problems.” To the contrary, it remains problematic to this day; so much so, that I became permanently disabled in 2017. I am still re-learning words and rely mostly on the internet now for vocabulary and spelling assistance.

My ECT story begins with the birth of my fifth child. I was going through personal turmoil during this time, serious hormonal issues and everything seemed hopeless. My psychiatrist put me on nine different psychiatric drugs for what he dubbed “postpartum depression.” I admitted myself to the hospital and the psychiatrist said I was “medication and treatment resistant” and suggested ECT. I was given three ECT treatments while an inpatient and then numerous ECT treatments as an outpatient. I have no idea how many shock treatments I was given overall. During that time frame, these supposed “safe” treatments made me feel like a vegetable. I was not really “there” and to this day I struggle with my memory and vocabulary. This past year I tried to get my medical records from the treating hospital and psychiatrist in Nebraska so I would at least know how many ECT “treatments” and I was told, in writing, that my records were old and had been destroyed.

My informed consent never went over permanent brain damage, losing memories and information that I know I had. It was only this year that I came to know what actually happened to my brain during electroshock. I was never told that ECT was actually inducing a grand-mal seizure and temporary brain comas. In 2013, Edward Shorter, Ph.D., wrote a piece in Psychology Today stating that “ECT does not cause permanent brain damage.” Dr. Shorter went as far as to question the validity of permanent side effects of ECT, and he even seems to blame parents for not choosing ECT when he stated: “Partly it’s the parents, who’ve imbibed every uninformed and outdated prejudice around against ECT.”

I would counter this psychologist’s statement with two questions: Have you undergone ECT yourself? Would 18 years of missing vocabulary and memory problems be enough scientific evidence to be considered permanent brain damage?

About the Author:

Janine Costello currently lives in Missouri. She attended Ashmead College in Fife, WA in 2004.  She continues to try to overcome the effects of ECT and has written and recorded a number of songs.

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