Lake Macquarie History

Light on Morisset: Will it hurt?

photo:light on morisset.will it hurt. exhibition panel

Patients at Morisset suffered a variety of conditions. Patients lived with psychiatric disorders such as depression and schizophrenia, intellectual disabilities like Down syndrome, addiction issues such as alcoholism and neurological conditions such as epilepsy. During the early history of the hospital, patients with diverse conditions often shared wards and treatment regimes. Prior to 1950, medical interventions for mental health conditions were still in an undeveloped state. Targeted, highly developed treatments and medications were not available. Managing patient behaviour often meant using physical and chemical restraint. Straitjackets, camisoles, kickers, muffs, confinement in single rooms, immobilisation and sedatives were used. Paraldehyde was in common use in psychiatric facilities as an anti-convulsant and sedative from the late nineteenth century until about 1970.
The post-1940 period brought the development of better medications and new 'shock' therapies, designed to reset brain activity. Insulin shock therapy and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) were both used at Morisset Hospital.
The now discredited insulin shock therapy used insulin injections to produce daily comas over several weeks. Early ECT worked by applying an electric current to the head to induce seizures. This was often done without sedation in the early days. Side effects of these therapies included memory loss. First hand accounts of early ECT without sedation record that this was a painful and frightening process. ECT can benefit patients by relieving severe depressive and psychotic symptoms. It is still used today. It was not until about 1950 that the introduction of first generation antipsychotic drugs like chlorpromazine, marketed as Largactil, moved health outcomes and expectations for patients forward. Former Morisset Hospital staff remember how much this changed patient care. New medications were the gateway to the eventual move to a community care model for those living with disabilities such as mental illness.
A broad range of new medications and therapies have emerged since the mid-twentieth century. Research, development and improvement to mental health care continues in 2021. Most experts agree that Australian mental health care has come a long way and has changed for the better, but there is still much more work to do.

Some of my memories will never return. They are lost - along with the crippling feeling of defeat and hopelessness. Not a tremendous price to pay.
Discussion of the effects of ECT Wishful drinking Carrie Fisher 2008

Anyhow, I worked up there in the acute admissions area for about twelve years. We used to give electric shock treatments, twice a week. There was the charge nurse, then there was a doctor, and there was the next senior nurse, and there was a junior, and we had to bring the patients in on the days we did the shock treatment. The poor buggers were kept in a sort of airing court out the back with a big high fence around it, and they used to try to escape from there because they were frightened because they knew what was happening to them. If they didn’t come in voluntarily, we had about six beds on each side of the room, and we used to go and bring them in, forcibly if necessary. Sometimes they would object very strongly. They were frightened, because they knew what shock treatment was, and if they didn’t come we had to forcibly bring them in and press down on their shoulders to hold them down on the bed. The poor buggers were shaking with fright, even though many of them were very mad, to put it bluntly.
They had these things like dumbbells. There was a junction thing on the end which had a lead facing on it, and the wiring came in and went out to a little machine over on the desk, which the doctor worked. There were two of these dumbbell things. We’d dip them in salt water, and there was a bed of lint on top held on with a rubber band. So we’d hold them down, and I used to apply the pad things to their temples. You should have seen the way they jumped! Everything in their body would go as stiff as a board, their muscles were taut, and they’d froth at the mouth, and although they’d be unconscious by this they’d still be jumping up and down on the bed. You just had to hold them there till they settled down. Then it took about three quarters of an hour till they came out of it. It was a very violent thing, but they had no other treatment before the Largactil came in…

Working in Morisset Hospital in the Bad old Days Laurie Akers As told by Bill Bottomley July 2020

Mike Willesee: So, how many times have you had shock treatment?
Peggy: A hundred and seventy eight.
Willesee: How many?
Peggy: A hundred and seventy eight.
Willesee: It's a lot, isn't it?
Peggy: Too many. The last doctor I had six months ago said I had a hundred seventy-seven too many. And I was too old for any more. It was knocking my body about so much that I shouldn’t have any more.
Willesee: How long have you been here now?
Peggy: Ten years.
Willesee: What do you think about the shock treatment?
Peggy: I think its wonderful for everybody else.
Willesee: You don't like it?
Peggy: I think its wonderful for me too.
Willesee: Would you like it again?
Peggy: No, never.
Willesee: Scared of it?
Peggy: Yes, I'm terrified.

Interview with Peggy, a patient at Morisset Hospital, living with bipolar disorder Inside Morisset Mike Willesee Television documentary Aired October 20 1983

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