When browsing my Facebook News Feed a few weeks ago, I came across a picture that really stuck in my mind: the top half of the picture was a forest with 'this is a cure' written across it, the bottom half a bottle of antidepressants with the accompanying text 'this is a lifetime addiction'. As someone who has used antidepressants in the past, a guilt-racked question resurfaced that used to plague my mind during the months taking my medication - why do people so frequently demonise this form of treatment?
Unfortunately, last night's episode of Panorama, 'A Prescription for Murder,' did nothing to banish the taboo surrounding medication for mental illnesses. Playing into the favourite media commentary of 'mental illness = murderer' that I see plastered over countless tabloid newspapers, this documentary exploring the 'rare' side effect of SSRIs only fuelled societal distrust and uneasiness towards antidepressants. The programme wholeheartedly ignored the fact (as it did many, relying solely on one gun-based crime) that people with mental illnesses are far more likely to be the victim of crime than the perpetrator, and only served to perpetuate the ignorant societal stereotype that people suffering from mental illnesses are abnormal, violent and dangerous.
Whilst the case of James Holmes was extremely complex as far as I understood it (he wasn't actually taking the drug at the time of the shooting, for example), I'd like to give an extremely airbrushed insight into my experience with SSRIs. I was 17, had been struggling with anxiety and depression throughout my teenage years, but it had got to a stage where I couldn't cope and it was inhibiting my ability to study for my A Levels. I was prescribed a common SSRI, which I believe gave me the stability to lead a normal life and, ultimately, get better.
I thus found the documentary extremely distressing. As a very caring and empathetic person (traits that remain unchanged despite my exposure to SSRIs), I found it deeply upsetting that somebody who watched this programme could draw correlation between my profile and that of a serial killer. The BBC had a responsibility to safeguard a potential audience of SSRI takers whose lives had been benefitted by this drug, but of course, the experience of the majority was omitted from the programme - after all, is a positive media representation of mental illness going to raise TV ratings? Furthermore, the BBC had a responsibility to safeguard the health of an audience that could be struggling to seek help with their depression, and who could potentially find great benefit from taking SSRIs - many of us work tirelessly to promote a shamelessness surrounding mental illness, and I was disappointed that this episode of Panorama counteracted some good progress made by the BBC to decrease the shame surrounding mental illness in recent years.
If anybody that watched the documentary last night has been left feeling distressed about taking SSRIs, you should not feel ashamed about a successful treatment option, and should not be fearful of approaching a treatment used by many. I would like to reiterate that there is nothing to feel guilty about if you are suffering from a mental health problem - you are not scary, you are not abnormal, you are simply experiencing something that 1 in 4 people will.
Sophie is a Time to Change Young Champion - find out more about the initiative here.
Useful websites and helplines:
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Rethink Mental Illness advice and information service is open 9:30 - 4pm Monday - Friday - 0300 5000 927. They have over 100 factsheets with easy to understand information on a variety of issues related to mental health
- CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) is a registered charity, which exists to prevent male suicide in the UK. Call 0800 58 58 58 or visit thecalmzone.net
- The Mix is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: email@example.com
- HopeLine runs a confidential advice helpline if you are a young person at risk of suicide or are worried about a young person at risk of suicide. Mon-Fri 10-5pm and 7pm-10pm. Weekends 2pm-5pm on 0800 068 41 41