Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) – also known as shock treatment – is a rare, but potentially effective treatment that can help relieve the symptoms associated with many mental health conditions.

Many see ECT as a frightening prospect – with most picturing ECT as an individual being held down against their will, before jerking violently during a seizure.

But the truth is very different, and it is actually a calm procedure. Many people find that ECT totally relieves their symptoms. Some will gain temporary relief, while others may not find any relief.

Most importantly, it is important to state that no one will be forced into ECT, unless they are a danger to themselves or others, or lack the mental capacity to make a decision regarding their mental health. Even when these scenarios are present, ECT is rare.

What is ECT?

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT): Electroconvulsive Therapy (commonly referred to as shock treatment) is a treatment that sees an electric current sent through the brain of an individual. The aim is to trigger an epileptic seizure, with the ultimate objective to relieve symptoms of a mental health problem. The human body is fully restrained during the procedure, which also involves a general anaesthetic. Electroconvulsive therapy is normally a last resort. Despite this, ECT actually has an impressive efficacy rate, with many people finding it helps immeasurably.

The two times that ECT can be administered without consent

In the vast majority of cases, a person must consent to ECT prior to it happening. Even if a person has been sectioned under the Mental Health Act, they must still give their consent before ECT is carried out.

In any case, a person should be given thorough advice and information on ECT before they agree to it. They will also have the chance to change their mind right up until the last moment.

However, there are two exceptions where ECT can take place without the consent of the patient. These instances are rare, but do happen.

  • If someone needs emergency treatment: In the case where a person is at imminent risk of suicide, deemed to be of significant risk of causing harm to others, or in a deep psychotic/manic state.
  • If someone lacks mental capacity: In the case where the mental illness of a patient is so severe that they are unable to make their own decisions about treatment, it may be decided on their behalf by mental health professionals that ECT is necessary.

One healthcare professional cannot determine if someone lacks mental capacity. In accordance with the Mental Health Act, a second professional (known as a Second Opinion Appointed Doctor) must agree that a person lacks capacity.

Advance Decision

Some people may choose to consider writing what is known as an Advance decision. This is a legal document that an individual makes in the case they ever lose mental capacity.

A person may choose to create this if they are at risk of falling into this state. In this decision, a person is able to make it clear that they do not wish to undergo ECT under any circumstances. This is a legal document that must be respected.

But like above, advance decisions do not count in the case where a person is a danger to themselves or others, or in a deep manic/psychotic state.


ECT is usually a form of treatment that involves a person giving specific consent after being given plenty of advice and information.

But it is important to state that ECT can take place without consent, but this will only ever happen when healthcare professionals believe it is in the best interests of the person.

See Also


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