Electroconvulsive treatment (ECT)

Electroconvulsive treatment (ECT)

Electroconvulsive treatment (ECT) is a medical procedure to induce a seizure within the brain, aimed at reducing some of the symptoms of mental illness. It is performed under general anaesthetic.

A course of ECT is up to a maximum of 12 treatments. These treatments are performed over a period of time not to exceed six months.

Get legal advice if you don't want ECT or aren't sure about it. With your consent, an advocate can refer you to Victoria Legal Aid for free legal assistance.

When ECT can be given

With your consent

If you are over 18 and have capacity to give informed consent and consent to ECT, then the treatment can be given without the approval of the Mental Health Tribunal.

Your informed consent must be in writing.

Without your consent

If your psychiatrist wants to give you ECT without your consent, they can apply to the Mental Health Tribunal for approval if:

The Mental Health Tribunal must approve this course of treatment before it can be performed.

In making this decision, the tribunal must be satisfied that:

  • you do not have capacity to give informed consent, and
  • there is no less restrictive way to treat you.

If you are under 18, the psychiatrist must apply for the tribunal's approval, even if you or your parents give informed consent or you are being treated as a voluntary patient (without a compulsory treatment order).

How the tribunal makes its decision

In deciding if you should have ECT, the Mental Health Tribunal must consider:

  • your views and preferences about ECT and any other alternative treatments
  • the reasons why you hold these views and preferences
  • the content of your advanced statement if you have one
  • the views of your nominated person if you have one
  • the views of your guardian if you have one
  • the views of your carer
  • the likely consequences if the ECT is not performed
  • any second opinion that has been obtained
  • the views of your parent(s) if you are under 16
  • the views of anyone with legal authority to consent to treatment if you are under 18.

If the tribunal finds that you are able to give informed consent and are not consenting to the treatment, it will not approve the course of treatment.

If the tribunal finds ECT is not the least restrictive treatment, it will not approve ECT.

At the tribunal hearing

The Mental Health Tribunal must hear and determine the application to perform ECT ‘as soon as practicable’, and within five business days of the application being made.

The authorised psychiatrist who is applying to the Mental Health Tribunal must give you a report explaining why you need ECT, at least 48 hours before the hearing.

Urgent ECT

The Mental Health Tribunal can hold a hearing as soon as possible if it receives an urgent application because ECT is necessary to:

  • save your life
  • prevent serious damage to your health, or
  • prevent you from suffering or continuing to suffer significant pain or distress.

Legal help at a tribunal hearing 

With your consent our advocates can make a referral to Victoria Legal Aid if you would like to have a lawyer represent you at a tribunal hearing about ECT. This service is free.

If you prefer to represent yourself at the tribunal, our advocates can help you understand how the tribunal works, and give you information which will help you get ready to speak on your own behalf. 

However, in most instances an advocate will not attend tribunal hearings with you.

If you are unhappy with the tribunal decision

If the tribunal makes a decision you disagree with, you can

  • apply for a revocation of the treatment order (if you are still on one)
  • ask for (in writing) a statement of reasons for decision
  • apply to Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) for a review of the decision.

You have 20 business days after the decision to request a statement of reasons. You also have 20 business days from the decision, or from receiving the statement of reasons, to apply to VCAT for a review.

How an advocate can support you

We do not provide legal representation or specific advice about how the law applies in your particular situation. Speak to an advocate who can refer you, with your consent, for free legal assistance from Victoria Legal Aid.