An Open Letter To BBC Panorama

Dear BBC Panorama

Just over four years ago I gave birth to my son, we were both completely healthy. Eight weeks later I was suicidal. What began as a hormone crash had escalated to severe insomnia, desperate depression, crippling anxiety and terrifying obsessive thoughts. When you are in such a state your rational mind has all but disappeared.

I was one of the lucky ones as I was able to reach out for help – from friends and family, and professionals. And although some of that professional help was very much below par they did offer me something – an SSRI antidepressant called fluoxetine.

Despite the utter hell I was living in, I didn’t begin taking those tablets for several weeks. Why? Because I was terrified of what they would do to me. I’d never been mentally ill before. I’d never been offered an antidepressant before. When you’re in that position, the anxious mind will latch on to anything and everything. Mine latched onto those pills. I was convinced I’d experience every side-effect possible. I worried my personality would be utterly destroyed. Many of my obsessive intrusive thoughts centered on harming myself or my baby and I was gripped by the idea that those drugs would cause me to act on those thoughts.

Eventually, with no other way out (besides the unthinkable), I reluctantly began taking them. I didn’t experience any side effects at all. I slept. I ate. I found incredibly small windows of relief from the world’s worst terror and emotional pain and they were enough to give me the hope and strength to continue my journey of recovery.

If your programme A Prescription For Murder? had been made and shown during the early summer of 2013 I would have inadvertently heard about it. I would have seen the trailer and I would have possibly even watched it if no one had been around to stop me. Even without watching it, I would have obsessed about that title, that premise; the unavoidable connotations that “antidepressants turn you into a murderer” and “antidepressants lead to psychosis.”

The obsessive thoughts would have built and spiralled and consumed me. The irrational fears I’d been experiencing already would have been proven “true” by that title.

Chances are I would have delayed taking those tablets for even longer, when I desperately needed them. Maybe I wouldn’t have taken them at all. Maybe…I would have taken my own life.

The BBC has a reputation for more responsible journalism when compared to some other commercial organisations. Channel 4 and 5 take pride in their shocking, click-bait programme titles – that’s their style and we come to expect the sensationalism from them. But as licence payers, we equally expect a certain level of sensitivity and integrity from the BBC. And especially from Panorama – a programme I have respected and enjoyed for many years.

What I don’t expect is a sensationalist headline that, even to this day – some four years later – evokes a spark of anxiety in me. And yes, there’s a question mark and yes, these side effects need to be investigated but do you need to sensationalise? Do you need to potentially trigger millions of anxiety sufferers around the country for the sake of better ratings? Do you need to encourage the stigma that already prevents many people for seeking pharmaceutical help for their mental health issues?

In recent years the BBC has been a shining beacon of best practice when it comes to mental health programming. Stacey’s postpartum psychosis storyline in Eastenders was a perfect example of how your channel can promote realistic and sensitive handling of such a topic by taking on the advice of experts and the people who’ve really been there.  Similarly, your Mind Over Marathon documentary from earlier this year was so sensitive and full of hope I watched it three times.

So why this title, Panorama? Why lower yourselves in this instance? Granted, I haven’t watched the programme yet. Maybe the content will be balanced, helpful and important. Maybe the programme will highlight how very rare these particular side effects are and that there are many other variables to consider in these cases.

But that really isn’t the point. The horse has already bolted. The title and the trailer are not balanced, they are not sensitive and they would have been incredibly damaging to me at the height of my illness.

There are people all over the country at the height of their illnesses right now. And they are at risk from such triggers. Please, think carefully next time.

Regards,

A former fan


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