Monday, 20 July 2015

Mental health in the media

It was with great excitement (tainted only somewhat by the tiredness of a 6am start) that I entered the iconic W1A headquarters of the BBC.  Around 80 mental health survivors, carers and professionals were gathering for a two hour live debate hosted by the Victoria Derbyshire show.

On the guest panel were former government minister Dr Liam Fox MP, comedienne and campaigner Ruby Wax, Dr Adrian James from RCPsych, Dr Liz England from RCGP and Clare Murdoch, head of a large NHS mental health trust.  But this wasn't a Question Time style panel show.  No, here the studio audience had the floor, and the debate took the form of a real discussion: soaring, emotional, raw, shocking at times.  The show was roughly divided into four segments: service user stories, the impact of cuts to mental health care, sectioning and detention, and finally more hopeful stories of recovery.  

There was an impressive range of voices heard: from a beautiful young anorexia survivor who had been turned away from hospital weighing just 4 stone as she wasn't yet ill enough, to a middle aged couple who had battled through the husband's severe clinical depression.  We heard from PTSD sufferers, those with bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, severe anxiety - and everything in between. We heard how many acutely unwell people had had to wait months or even years for treatment.  How families and friends had had to step in and provide life saving care.  How people had been discrimated at work or felt stigmatised by their communities.  It was an incredible, wide-ranging, discussion and we could have continued for hours.  Victoria handled the whole thing with ease and sensitivity.

I was initially contacted by the show's producer via twitter.  But I was soon in touch with my friends and colleagues at Action on Postpartum Psychosis: we were all keen that maternal mental health was included in the debate, and my brief was to get in a mention for APP on air.  APP are currently short listed for an important National Lottery award, so every bit of publicity counts!

I was pleased to be picked in advance to tell my story on air, early on in the debate.  I was after another lady, Sarah, who had just given her distressing account of postnatal illness.  Clearly Sarah had struggled to access the right treatment and support, and is still deeply traumatised by her illness and the fact she could not look after her children for a time.  Victoria introduced me at that point, to give an example of what can happen with the right treatment and support.  I always say (despite the trauma of the illness itself) that my story is a fortunate one, full of hope and encouragement.  I visited the very depths of psychotic hell - and survived.  Recovered.  With my baby and my family and my life fully intact.

I am so eager to tell my story because I believe people need to hear it.  Women need to know what can happen following childbirth, but also that it is not the end of the world if you seek help and access the right treatment.  The horrendous stories, like Sarah's, are the result of too few families knowing that this help is out there and that you can recover well from illnesses such as postpartum psychosis.  My job, and the job of charities such as APP, is raise awareness of the illness, while at the same time continuing to lobby government for the resources needed to provide the life-saving treatment necessary for it.

Sadly our efforts were somewhat undermined shortly after the show aired, when the main BBC News item on the debate was headlined "I wanted to kill my children".  Clickbait headlines such as this are the reason I am so wary of tabloid interviews - but I expected better from the BBC, particularly after such a productive morning.  APP were also furious, and several formal complaints have been made.  I really hope the BBC listens to us and understands why this sort of reporting is so damaging.

You can watch the whole 20 July 2015 Victoria Derbyshire show here:

Coincidentally, The Boy and I also featured again on Channel 4 evening news.  Some archive interview footage is included in Victoria MacDonald's report on unsafe discharge from hospital (around 4.40 minutes in):

Here are a few photos from the day:

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