Shock therapy for 14-year-olds

Cathy O'Leary Medical Editor
Shock therapy for 14-year-olds

New mental health laws will allow electroconvulsive therapy to be given to troubled teenagers in WA from the age of 14, after the State Opposition lost its bid to have the age raised to 16.

The move to increase the minimum age was defeated in the Lower House last week, as was another amendment to lift the minimum age for psychosurgery from the planned 16 years to 18.

ECT, which is used in rare cases to treat severe depression, is one of the most contentious aspects of the Mental Health Bill being debated in Parliament, with the plan to allow 14-year-olds to consent to treatment attracting widespread calls for it to be banned in all children, or at least limited to those aged 16 and over.

At present, there is no age limit, and under the new laws teenagers aged 14 to 17 would also have to get approval from the Mental Health Tribunal to have ECT.

Labor backbencher Tony Buti said he was disappointed the age amendment failed because while the current laws did not stipulate any minimum, if an age was to be stated 16 seemed a more cautious approach than 14.

"While I accept that ECT has not been used in children in recent years, that in itself says something about the profession being wary about it," he said.

"But I'm worried that now there is an age limit, practitioners may feel more confident about using ECT in a 14 or 15-year-old, because Parliament has sanctioned it."

Mental Health Minister Helen Morton said half of the Bill had now been debated, including the ECT clauses.

"ECT is a vital treatment for some people who are struggling to manage their mental health and in some cases can save lives," she said. "However, many people in the community are concerned about the nature of the treatment.

"We have tried to reach a balance in this legislation by introducing the strongest safeguards of any Australian jurisdiction with a minimum age limit and approval via the Mental Health Tribunal."

Mrs Morton said the legislation overall would change the way WA approached treatment for people living with mental health issues, and increase family and carer involvement.