A shocking story
Thank you for writing and publishing this very honest and excellent article on Ray Sandford and the issue of forced shock treatment ("The Doctor Will Shock You Now," 5/20/09.) It is not too common nowadays to see articles on this kind of topic describing things as they really are, rather than just quoting the viewpoints of some well-connected professionals. This article is a praiseworthy exception to that unfortunate state of affairs.
I think it is especially impressive that the article describes some of Ray's life history. This is important because one of the foundations of psychiatric abuse is to dehumanize people by reducing them to a label—a so-called "diagnosis"—and to ignore the significance of their individual life experiences. I think one of the most helpful things for people who have gone through difficult and troubling experiences is to find a way to put those experiences into some kind of perspective or context that allows them to make sense of what has happened. Unfortunately, the mental health system often does the exact opposite of this by denying the importance of context in a person's life. The result is that the system prevents people from ever being able to move beyond their initial difficulties and live a normal life—instead it turns them into lifelong patients.
It is one thing for people to freely choose this serious and risky treatment for themselves, but something completely different if it is forced on them by someone else. There is no downside for the professionals who force shock treatments on other people—they profit no matter what the outcome. Whatever negative consequences there may be are borne entirely by the person who has the treatment. One of the main reasons for Ray's forced shock treatments seems to have been so that a few individuals can make some money under the guise of providing "medical" care.
I think some of the people involved in forcing this treatment on Ray should be in prison—and in a truly just society I think they would be.
My grandmother, who is almost 90 now, was given electroshock therapy, psychedelic drugs, and other forms of delicate care at the hands of doctors in the 1950s. Why? Because she suffered from depression. When I speak to her, she drifts in and out of the conversation, but mostly it's out. She was administered one too many acid trips, trips the administering physicians wouldn't take themselves. As for being injected with electricity, the gift that keeps on giving, isn't that delightful treatment supposed to be reserved for those being shuffled from death row to a hole in the ground on a barren patch of government land? To this day, my grandmother doesn't trust doctors and would rather chew her leg off, if she had the teeth, than pay a visit to the hospital. Isn't there a lab rat out there somewhere who would be willing to endure mind-bending voltage for a few seeds, a sip of water, and a spin in the wheel instead of donating the experiment to Ray Sandford? Because, as I understand it, Ray doesn't want the job. But I forgot, he doesn't have any human rights—those are reserved for prisoners of war, drug smugglers, and certain breeds of dogs.
It is very unfortunate that Matt Snyders chose to write such a sensationalistic article about electroconvulsive therapy. City Pages had an opportunity to educate readers about this successful technique but instead wound up with a one-sided and confusing article.
Although the exact reasons for its success in treating people with bipolar illness and depression are still a mystery, ECT is undoubtedly the most successful treatment for persons with certain mental illnesses. The fact is that the voltage used in an ECT treatment is approximately the same wattage used to light up a light bulb—not so scary. This applied electricity induces a grand mal seizure, which is the real event that somehow restores the proper biochemical balance to the person's brain.
As a college sophomore, I experienced a bout of serious clinical depression that left me unable to concentrate or to academically function. Within a month, I could barely get out of bed to take care of myself. I dropped out of school and moved back home with my parents. After six months of crushing depression and various medication attempts, I agreed to try ECT. Within one treatment I felt that my brain chemistry was restored. The depression had lifted. I woke up from that single treatment feeling full of energy, love, and excitement for the future. My physician recommended six total treatments, which I agreed to happily. I returned to my college within two weeks and resumed classes and fully resumed the rest of my life.
I am convinced that ECT saves lives; it certainly saved mine. It is a reliable and effective treatment for serious depression, bipolar illness, and schizophrenia. Please report the full story next time, and don't focus on the dramatics. Doing that only continues the stigma for ECT patients and turns the general public against this effective, painless, life-saving treatment.