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Rubber ECT mouth gags, England, 1950-1990

Rubber mouth gags protected patients from harming themselves during electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). This psychiatric treatment was developed in Italy in 1938. It applied electric currents to the brain in timed pulses, causing a convulsion or seizure. It was thought possible to 'shock' a patient out of a severe mental disorder. From the 1930s until the 1980s, physicians thought the key to effective ECT was the severity of the seizure. Patients who choose ECT today are given a muscle relaxant. This means the electricity affects their brain but not their body. The gags were inserted into the mouth to stop the patient biting or swallowing his or her tongue. These examples were donated by St Francis Hospital, formerly Brighton County Borough Asylum. The scratch marks indicate they were well used.

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    Techniques and Technologies:


    Glossary: mouth gag

    device for preventing the mouth from being closed which permits the passage of the hand or an easily damaged piece of equipment such as a rubber stomach tube.

    Glossary: electrotherapy

    The passing of electric currents through the body's tissues to stimulate the functioning of nerves and the muscles.

    Glossary: psychiatric hospital

    Psychiatric hospital specialising in the treatment of serious mental illness, usually for relatively long-term patients.