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General News, Mental Health

Are SA Psychiatrists the Foxes Guarding the Hen House?

Citizens Commission on Human Rights 3 mins read

South Australian Psychiatrists want to keep Electroshocking Children and Expand Restraint Authorisation to Forcibly give Involuntary Electroshock

The SA Mental Health Act is currently under review and new proposals have raised the red alert that we have a “fox guarding the chicken house” situation which needs to be stopped to ensure patient’s rights are not diminished even further in a field already notorious for patient abuse and trauma.

SA psychiatrists want to keep being able to electroshock (ECT) children and to be able to themselves authorise the use of restraint to forcibly give torturous electroshock to involuntary detained children and adults instead of the SACAT (SA Civil and Administrative Tribunal) who are the external body currently authorising this specific use of the restraint. With submissions closing on 21 December 2023 for the review of the SA Mental Health Act, now is the time for public and professionals to urgently take action to protect vulnerable SA children and adults from electroshock and restraint.

Electroshock, also called electroconvulsive therapy, is legal for all ages in SA, including children, pregnant women and the elderly. Electroshock can cause brain damage, permanent memory loss, heart problems, stroke and death.

  • In SA in 2022-23, there were 6,218 electroshocks given to 509 people. The SA Chief Psychiatrist reported that this included 0–19-year-olds as well as elderly over 90 years of age.

There are no proposals to ban ECT or involuntary ECT for any age in the Discussion Paper released by the SA Chief Psychiatrist on the review. This is despite the WHO and UN together issuing their Mental Health, human rights and legislation guidance in October this year which states that electroshock is an “irreversible intervention,” which can cause “memory loss and brain damage” and “ECT is not recommended for children, and this should be prohibited through legislation.”

In 2019, the UN also directly told Australia after it was before the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, it should, “Prohibit the use of non-consensual electroconvulsive therapy on the basis of any form of impairment.”

As long ago as 2013, the UN has been calling on governments to impose a total ban on all forced interventions including electroshock and restraint. As there is no mention of the recent WHO and UN guidance or any of the other UN and WHO instructions on banning coercive practices in the Discussion Paper, it appears the SA Chief Psychiatrist, Dr John Brayley, has woefully neglected these instructions from the top world health and human rights bodies.

In 2021, Dr Brayley approved SA’s policy to reduce and eliminate where possible the use of restraint and seclusion. The opposite is now being proposed in order to more easily authorise restraint to forcibly give involuntary ECT without Tribunal approval. This means a psychiatrist could authorise the use of a limb restraint or authorise holding down an involuntarily detained child or adult to forcibly give them ECT against their will. Parental consent is not needed for electroshock of an involuntarily detained child. This can only increase traumatic restraint and increase the risk of death from restraint.

  • Restraint use is rife in SA: in 2022-23, there were a staggering 1,739 physical restraint instances, 44 uses of mechanical restraint and 697 chemical restraint events reported.

The WHO and UN Guidance correctly pointed out that, “Predicting self-harm or the risk of harming others is both extremely difficult and ethically questionable.” And “There is also a growing body of evidence that indicates that non-coercive practices lead to better mental-health outcomes.” Further they state, “There are always alternatives to seclusion and restraint.”

Electroshock is not therapy, it is torture. ECT use on children and involuntarily detained adults must be banned immediately. Traumatic psychiatric restraint should be made a criminal offence and non-coercive practices need to be mandated. It is way past time to stop talking about it and start doing. Both restraint and electroshock are barbaric, belong in the dark ages and should never be used, there should be heavy criminal fines and prison terms for violations of the bans.  

Submissions close Thursday 21 December 2023. Public can lodge a submission to the SA Chief Psychiatrist by emailing:

Contact: Shelley Wilkins (02) 9964 9844 or

Executive Director of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) Australian National  Office


CCHR was established in 1969 by the Church of Scientology and Professor of Psychiatry the late Dr Thomas Szasz to investigate and expose psychiatric violations of human rights.

Key Facts:

-SA psychiatrists want to keep electroshocking children. 

-United Nations and World Health Organisation state, "ECT is not recommended on children, and this should be prohibited through legislation."

-SA Mental Health Act Review- Submissions close 21 December 2023.

Contact details:

Shelley Wilkins (02) 9964 9844 or

Executive Director of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) Australian National Office

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