A Patient's Perspective


COLETTE Ní DHUINNEACHA:I was 19 the first time I was detained in a psychiatric hospital. I escaped after six months. I literally hopped over the wall and got on a bus. I was detained involuntarily. It’s a terrible thing to happen. All your rights are taken away.

You have no voice.

I wish I could tell you in detail about the first time I had ECT, but I have no memory of it. To be honest, I remember very little about my childhood. I have only a couple of memories. I feel that I have been robbed of so much of the richness of life. I hear my sister recalling things that happened, but I can’t remember any of it.

It has blighted my life – not the mental illness but the treatment. I did experience a lot of ECT, all of it against my will. This all started when I was a student. I was doing arts in University College Cork .

I don’t remember the incident but they said I got over-excited.

My first year in college had been pretty rough. I always got very stressed about exams and I failed them, and I got depressed and anxious.

And then I went back, but I was helping to organise an exhibition and there was a lot of stress. I was taken to the Mercy Hospital. A doctor there suggested to my parents that I go to Lindville which was a private (psychiatric) hospital.

I don’t remember much about the actual ECT, but I do remember that there were rubber sheets on the bed and that when you woke up after it they gave you tea and sandwiches.

I did not realise the damage it was doing. Nobody really explained it.

I was hospitalised again when I was 21. I have had eight detentions – I think of it as imprisonment. I always wanted to leave but I was not allowed to. And then when I got angry because nobody would listen to me, they said, “Oh she is psychotic”.

I was regarded as non-compliant. I fought the system, probably unwisely, I now realise. I was in Sarsfield Court [Co Cork] several times. One time myself and some of the other patients decided to tell the nurses how we felt about the treatment – the ECT and the drugs – that we really believed it was not helping us.

I don’t remember anything else until I woke up in a locked ward. They had put me in an ambulance and taken me to Our Lady’s Hospital [Cork]. I still get very frightened when I think of that place. It was big, grey, gothic. Most of the patients were there for life.

I remember being pinned down by the nurses and medication forced down my throat. There was a row of beds in the ward where you got the ECT, all with rubber sheets. They put something like ear muffs on your temples and then they passed electricity through your brain. I don’t know how anyone can justify it.

I thought for years that my memory was bad because of the medication. I was on antipsychotics because of manic depression . But I came off medication in 1995 and my memory did not come back. I have ME now.

Who knows how ECT affected my health?

My parents committed me. I did resent my parents for that, but I have come to realise that they thought they were doing what was best for me. I never talked to them about it.

I feel very strongly that forced ECT should be outlawed. I would like to see it outlawed in all circumstances – it has no place in a civilised world. I don’t agree with this argument that people who are ill have not the capacity to decide what is best for themselves.

That is a handy tool to use to force procedures on people and to take away their rights. It does not happen with physical illness. There should be human intervention, people who will talk to you, listen to you.

I feel ECT has robbed me. It has affected me in so many ways – my relationships, my work, my life.

In conversation with Marese McDonagh