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Depression board

One man's story:

A Kenora man who says he endured almost 25 years of progressive memory loss, coupled with hallucinations and bouts of confusion and depression, thinks the shock treatment he underwent may have contributed to his troubles.

He says the routine use of shock treatment and potentially hallucinatory medication to treat alcoholism and periods of mild depression should be banned.

Jerry Gaudrain's first brush with psychiatry and 'electroconvulsive therapy' (ECT or, more commonly, shock treatment) came 30 years ago, after he discovered his brother dead at their Kenora home.

Gaudrain (not his real name) says he fell quickly into a deep and lasting depression after discovering his brother dead. He began to drink a lot - not every day, but in large quantity during binges that lasted several days. He became suicidal. Soon enough, he found himself in a Kenora hospital where he was initially diagnosed as suffering from a mild form of psychosis called reactive depression.

Doctors at Winnipeg General Hospital--now the Health Sciences Centre--authorized shock treatment. That set Gaudrain, now 57 years old, on a course of treatment he believes kept him ill for 25 years.

"I'd be hearing voices," Gaudrain said during a series of recent interviews in Kenora. "I'd see things. I didn't want to live. I didn't know what I was talking about half the time."

ECT is essentially an electrical stimulation of the brain. It's used to induce cerebral seizures that disrupt normal electrical activity in the brain. A patient is first given an intravenous anesthetic. Once the patient is asleep, a muscle relaxant is administered intravenously and pure oxygen is given through a face mask. An electrical stimulus is then briefly applied to the scalp, causing seizure activity in the brain and mild muscle contractions. The seizure usually lasts 30 seconds to one minute. The patient is awake five to 20 minutes after the procedure.

Gaudrain says that instead of treating alcoholism that was at the core of his suffering, psychiatrists in Winnipeg, Kenora and Thunder Bay routinely ordered ECT to 'cure' his illness.

Gaudrain was prescribed a variety of drugs, many of them known to induce hallucinations in small doses, among these so-called psychotropic drugs and antidepressants such as Prozac, Librium and lithium.

After more than 50 ECT treatments from 1967 to his last in the summer of 1992, Gaudrain managed to take charge of his own health. But it took a life-threatening car accident to change the course of his life, he says.

Hospitalized on more than 75 occasions during the 25-year course of his apparent illness, Gaudrain says he was routinely released with a veritable pharmacopoeia of drugs prescribed. That surprises Gaudrain now. He worked as a cab driver in Kenora. His doctor never told him not to drive, he says.

"They'd just send me home with more drugs," he said. "If you're alcoholic, why are they sending you home with pills?"