This letter contains my response to your programme that was aired last night: A Prescription for Murder. I am writing it from the position of someone who has been taking Sertraline for at least a year and a half of their life but also from a professional position as a Trainee Counsellor.
I have to say, after watching your programme I am feeling quite devastated, hurt and incredibly angry. I don’t think you’ve quite realised the damage that it will have caused. Already in the UK we live in a society where mental health is still looked down upon, feared and misunderstood. I think that your programme has not aided any further understanding of those who struggle, it has instead only encouraged these negative feelings and views of people like me.
Your programme has only encouraged that divide in our society which people seem to see as the mentally well and the mentally unwell. This is the part that I find myself most livid about. How in this day and age are we still under the impression that these two groups even exist? It’s absolute, excuse my French, bollocks. ANYBODY from ANY walk of life can experience ill mental health. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from. However, this programme has merely fuelled the fear of people who have a mental health diagnosis and/or who take antidepressants. Especially now a ‘highbrow’ show on the BBC has told them to.
Not only this, but you will have caused fear amongst people who themselves have a diagnosis or take antidepressants. I know that you included warnings in the programme not to just suddenly stop taking them and to go and see their GP with their concerns, but how many people do you really think are going to pay attention to that when one of your blokes said:
“If he hadn’t taken the Sertraline he wouldn’t have murdered anyone.”
You may have caused so much fear within people that this morning they are too terrified to even hold the strip of tablets in their hand telling themselves that they could be that small minority you spoke about. What I think you have failed to understand is that, as human beings, we are all autonomous. For example, people who are taking Sertraline may have been encouraged by you to go to their GP with any concerns. But do you even recognise that whatever advice they receive now could be falling on deaf ears? They could decide to stop taking it if they want to even if their GP suggests they don’t. Your programme may have kick started hundreds, if not thousands of people stopping medication that could be helping them.
I wonder how many doctors, psychiatrists, counsellors etc are going to be seeing their patients/clients today who are completely distraught and too terrified to even think about continuing their medication. I wonder how many conversations I will have with my own clients about the messages you have promoted in your unhelpful, irresponsible and damaging show.
On a similar note, I really enjoyed your interviews with all the white middle-class males, highly educated from a Psychiatric background sharing their oh so important thoughts about what had happened. Really representative I thought. Where were the female Psychiatrists? Where were ANY females from any mental health profession? What about literally just ANYONE from a different mental health background say, counsellors or psychotherapists like me, GPs, mental health nurses? Why did their opinions not matter? Would someone from any other background whether it be gender, cultural, racial, professional have had valuable and important insights that you failed to show?
I have taken Sertraline for a year and a half of my life now. I take them because I have OCD where I experience intrusive thoughts, often about unintentionally causing harm to other people. For me, these little tablets actually help combat these harrowing and terrifying thoughts of causing harm to someone else, not exasperate it.
To end my letter, I want to make it clear that I am not condoning what this man did. He needed to be found guilty for murdering these innocent people. But I also want to highlight that from what you said in the documentary, he experienced dark thoughts long before he was ever prescribed Sertraline. Who’s to say that the tablets weren’t working and he would’ve gone downhill anyway? As a result of refusing antipsychotics, maybe he wasn’t being prescribed the right kind of medication in the first place and so wasn’t receiving the appropriate help. But this was something you barely even acknowledged.
I hope that in the future you think in a little more depth about the kind of damage you can do with TV shows like A Prescription for Murder. Maybe it would be a good idea to actually have people working on the show who themselves are mental health professionals or have personal experience of a diagnosis/are on medication. Something of which I’m sure will be echoed by many others who struggle themselves.
And maybe, just maybe, it might be wise to ask yourself in the future: who am I actually helping through making these programmes?
Beth at Me, Myself and Mental Health.