Victoria Legal Aid

Electroconvulsive treatment

The rules about when electroconvulsive treatment (ECT), a medical procedure to induce a seizure within the brain to reduce some of the symptoms of mental illness, can be given.

Electroconvulsive treatment (ECT) is a medical procedure to induce a seizure within the brain. It aims to reduce some of the symptoms of mental illness. ECT 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.

When ECT can be given

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

Your informed consent must be in writing.

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

  • you are on a treatment order
  • you do not have capacity to give informed consent to ECT, and
  • they believe there is no less restrictive way to treat you.

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:

  • the reasons why you hold these views and preferences
  • the content of your advanced statement if you have one
  • your views and preferences about ECT and any other alternative treatments
  • the views of your nominated person, guardian or carer (if you have one)
  • 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 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.

If you are unhappy with the tribunal decision

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

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.

You can ask for legal advice to help you decide what to do.

Other support

Find out how you can get other support for mental health and disability.

Publications and resources

Disclaimer: The material in this print-out relates to the law as it applies in the state of Victoria. It is intended as a general guide only. Readers should not act on the basis of any material in this print-out without getting legal advice about their own particular situations. Victoria Legal Aid disclaims any liability howsoever caused to any person in respect of any action taken in reliance on the contents of the publication.

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Reviewed 06 May 2022

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