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Electroshock and psychiatric drugging of children without parental consent is legal in the NSW Mental Health Act

Please take action to protect children and parental rights.

orange and burgundy justice scales.ELECTROSHOCK OF NSW CHILDREN:  It is appalling that the current Mental Health Act allows for children to be electroshocked (ECT) – the brutal application of hundreds of volts of electricity to the head potentially causing brain damage, memory loss and sometimes death. There are no bans to prevent its use on children in NSW.

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Western Australia has banned the use of electroshock on children under 14 years of age and ACT had banned it for children under 12.1 In 2017, India banned electroshock for all children under 18 and Sicily banned its use completely in 2013.2 There are other bans and restrictions around the world for children.

In NSW an involuntarily detained child can be given electroshock without parental consent required at any stage of the approval process including at a Tribunal who give final approval. A total of 7,340 Medicare funded electroshocks were given in NSW in 2017, a 37% increase since 2012.3 ECT needs to be banned. Its use should be prohibited immediately on children, pregnant women and the elderly. [s94, s96 of NSW Mental Health Act 2007 (NSW MHA)]

restraint_for_shockRESTRAINT AND SECLUSION OF NSW CHILDREN: The current Mental Health Act does not cover and provide protections against the use of mechanical restraint (the use of belts, harnesses, manacles, straps, etc.) and chemical restraint (the use of psychiatric drugs to subdue and control) or seclusion, leaving these traumatic and abusive procedures in place without legal safeguards. The Act allows for the use of reasonable force and the administration of sedatives while transporting someone to a mental health facility, which could constitute chemical and physical restraint. Instead of legal protections covered by law, restraint usage is covered under a NSW Health Policy Directive, compliance of which is a condition of subsidy for public health organisations; private facilities do not have to follow the Directive and are expected to have policies in place.4 In 2018 a plan to reduce restraint was also implemented and public health organisations are expected also to implement this plan.5 Legal safeguards for restraint and seclusion are needed. Both chemical and physical restraint must be prohibited for use on children, pregnant women and the elderly. [s 81 of NSW MHA]

STERILISATION (Special Medical Treatment): Can be performed on involuntarily detained patients over the age of 16. Consent is not required from the patient or their carer. A psychiatrist applies to the Mental Health Review Tribunal to have the sterilisation performed. It is a gross human rights violation to enforce an irreversible medical procedure such as sterilisation. Sterilisation should be completely removed from the Mental Health Act. [s98, s103 of NSW MHA & Mental Health Review Tribunal Civil Hearing Kit: Surgery or Medical Treatment, p.5]

CHILDREN IN WARDS WITH ADULTS AND SEXUAL ABUSE: The law does not rule out children being held in wards with adults. Not having legal protections that prevent children from being exposed to such an environment leaves them open to physical and sexual abuse in an environment where there is insufficient supervision. Also there is no mandatory reporting of sexual abuse or criminal fines in place to ensure reporting of alleged sexual assault of patients. The law must be amended to ensure children are not placed in wards with adults and to ensure mandatory reporting of alleged sexual abuse to the police.

INFORMED CONSENT DENIED: The Act provides “Principles for Care and Treatment” [s68] which outline 10 points of care, including that patients should be provided with information about treatments, alternatives, the effects of treatment and informed of their legal rights. However, another clause [s195] states that these principles, including informed consent, are not a “right or entitlement enforceable at law.” All fundamental patient rights should be enforceable by law.

A sad boy looking out through a window.CHILDREN CAN BE INVOLUNTARY DETAINED AND TREATED WITHOUT PARENTAL CONSENT: In 2016/17, a staggering 18,966 NSW people were involuntarily taken to a psychiatric facility, 16,241 of these were involuntarily detained.6 The law allows for children to be involuntarily detained and treated without parental consent. Parents will not able to discharge their involuntarily detained child and parental consent is not needed for further detainment or treatment including psychiatric drugs, restraint, seclusion and electroshock. While this situation is abhorrent enough, parents who wish to appeal to a Tribunal to have their child discharged have no guarantee that an appeal will result in the child allowed to return home. Of the 5,640 individuals the Tribunal reviewed in 2016/17 only 56 were discharged (0.9%). Another 362 were discharged on a legal order to receive drugs/treatment at home.7 [s12, s13, s14, s15, s34, s35, s84, s94 of NSW MHA]

ALTERNATIVES: There is no doubt that some children who are troubled require special care. But they should be given holistic, humane care that improves their condition. Institutions should be safe havens where children and adults voluntarily seek help for themselves or their child without fear of indefinite incarceration or harmful and terrifying treatment. They need a quiet and safe environment, good nutrition, rest, exercise and help with life’s problems. Extensive medical evidence proves that underlying and undiagnosed physical illnesses can manifest as psychiatric symptoms and therefore should be addressed with the correct medical treatment, not psychiatric techniques. Studies show that once the physical condition is addressed, the mental symptoms can disappear. With proper medical treatment and real help people can lead healthier, happier lives.

Take Action

ACTIONS YOU CAN TAKE: Please phone, visit, write, fax or email your local member of parliament asking for changes to be made to the NSW Mental Health Act.

To find your local Legislative Assembly Members of parliament can be found on this link: https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au

You can contact any or all of the Members of the Legislative Council as they each cover all of NSW. Their offices are at Parliament House in Sydney. To obtain their contact details click on this link: https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au

The NSW Mental Health Act can be found on this link: http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/nsw/consol_act/mha2007128/


  1. Western Australia Mental Health Act 2014, S 194, p. 145; Australian Capital Territory Mental Health Act 2015, S 147, p. 178.
  2. India Mental Health Care Act 2017, S 95 (b), p 39. http://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/Mental%20Health/Mental%20Healthcare%20Act,%202017.pdf ; “Electroshock, Sicily has abolished the practice,” Living In Sicily – Vardag På Sicilien, 6 October, 2013. http://livinginsicily.eu/tag/ban/
  3. Statistics generated on Medicare Australia website using MBS item code: 14224 for electroconvulsive therapy: http://medicarestatistics.humanservices.gov.au/statistics/do.jsp?_PROGRAM=%2Fstatistics%2Fmbs_item_standard_report&DRILL=ag&group=14224&VAR=services&STAT=count&RPT_FMT=by+state&PTYPE=calyear&START_DT=201701&END_DT=201712 and http://medicarestatistics.humanservices.gov.au/statistics/do.jsp?_PROGRAM=%2Fstatistics%2Fmbs_item_standard_report&DRILL=ag&group=14224&VAR=services&STAT=count&RPT_FMT=by+state&PTYPE=calyear&START_DT=201201&END_DT=201212
  4. Aggression, Seclusion & Restraint in Mental Health Facilities in NSW, NSW Health Policy Directive: PD2012_035, 25 June 2012, cover page.
  5. Mental Health Safety and Quality in NSW: A plan to implement recommendations of the Review of seclusion, restraint and observation of consumers with a mental health illness in NSW Health Facilities, May 2018.
  6. NSW Mental Health Review Tribunal Annual Report 2016/17, p. 31 https://www.mhrt.nsw.gov.au/files/mhrt/pdf/MHRT%20Annual%20Report%20Final%202016%2017.pdf
  7. NSW Mental Health Review Tribunal Annual Report 2016/17, p.30 https://www.mhrt.nsw.gov.au/files/mhrt/pdf/MHRT%20Annual%20Report%20Final%202016%2017.pdf