*Another* BBC Mental Illness Fail

Last year, the Beeb produced an appalling episode of its long-running Panorama show on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, strongly inferring that the only people who would genuinely be afflicted with the disorder were soldiers traumatised by battle.  As the title of the documentary – The Trauma Industry – suggested, the central tenet of the program was that any civilian presenting with PTSD was doing so to claim compensation, benefits or whatever other nasty the man that presented it, Allan Little, thought was malingering-esque.

I was one of, as far as I know, hundreds that wrote to complain.  In fairness, I got a fairly reasonable response from the Deputy Editor who afforded me the opportunity to speak directly to him about my concerns if I thought it would be of use.  I didn’t, so I didn’t phone him, but I did think that perhaps the furore about the program may have made the BBC think twice before putting out such biased and unprofessional tripe again.

How wrong I was.

Last night, BBC2 screened a documentary entitled, Why Did You Kill My Dad?, presented by filmmaker Julian Hendy.  In 2007 his father Phillip was brutally murdered by an individual with mental health trouble.

The tragedy saw Mr Hendy set out to “investigate” the true rate of violent crime committed by the mentally ill, in particular those with psychotic illness, in the UK.

Cue mournful, vaguely sinister music, accompanying pictures of crazed looking nutters or images of catatonic freaks showing off their thousand-yard stares.


I feel bad criticising Julian Hendy, as I can’t imagine how horrific it must be to lose someone you love in such circumstances.  Nevertheless, this was a hideously biased, completely unbalanced program, full of very little more than gross generalisations.

OK, so perhaps it didn’t specifically come out and say, “people suffering from psychosis are more likely to be murderers,” but it might as well have done.  Those suffering from mental ill health were depicted as axe-wielding maniacs who have no hope of managing their conditions whatsoever.  TEH NHS FAILS COS IT HAZN’T LOCKED ‘EM ALL UP INNIT.

I’m the first to admit that the NHS is bullshit when it comes to mental health.  Christ knows, I rant about every day or two on this journal!  And maybe in the case of Phillip Hendy’s assailant, the NHS should have realised there was a risk to others.

But that is one case.  Hendy ergo tried to counter that by speaking to other families that have lost people in similar ways, but when you compare this small number of people to the amount of people that have suffered psychosis the percentage risk of a psychosis-violence link is so much beyond negligible that it is in fact almost infinitesimal.

The documentary conveniently failed to acknowledge the fact that community based individuals with schizophrenia, obviously the best known of psychotic illness, are much more likely to be victims of violent crime than they are to be perpetrators (source: any of these dozens of Google results).  Those not based in the community are usually imprisoned in locked bins with draconian rules on release, so their risk to the general public – if there even is one in the first place – is clearly quite low.

What complete bollocks. Psychosis simply does not equal violence.  For God’s sake, my voices once told me to harm my baby cousin – it doesn’t mean it actually fucking happens in all but the smallest minority of cases.

The film, whether it intended to do so or not, has only succeeded in presenting the mentally ill as dangerous and deranged, despite the fact that it is well known (and highly demonstrable) that psychosis as well as other forms of mental disorders can be well managed with minimum danger to others.  All this documentary has done is to reinforce the false stereotypes and dangerous, unfair stigmas that surround mental ill health in the UK today.

BBC, you fail.  Again.


12 thoughts on “*Another* BBC Mental Illness Fail

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  4. A third BBC mental illness fail, as Into the System pointed out on Twitter, is the revelation that a character in Eastenders with bipolar disorder was a murderer. Apparently there were several individuals without mental illness that were in the frame for the killing in question, but the Beeb went and picked the looney as their scapegoat. Nice one, sirs.

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  6. I didn’t watch this programme as I thought it would piss me off, and judging by all the blog rants about it I have seen that was justified. I am sure the Beeb will receive many complaints about this programme. Good point about Eastenders too. I don’t watch it, but how typical that they picked the one mentally ill character to be the murderer. Fail.

  7. The documentary really angered me…as you say Pandora it was completely unbalanced. In a sense it doesn’t ‘t really matter if Hendry’s claims were true or false as he didn’t refer to the OTHER (counter-) claims at all. As a public service broadcaster you would think the Beeb would want to educate ppl by giving a ROUNDED analysis. Complete fail

  8. Hey Pan
    Just stumbled upon your blog, which I think is amazing!

    Totally agree re this docu. BBC should be ashamed, how irresponsible. Might complain myself. Never as simple as this, I wonder are there any docus presenting the other side ofthe story.

    Take care

    • I wonder are there any docus presenting the other side of the story.

      Funny, I was asked on Twitter if I knew of any of any. Unfortunately I don’t offhand, but I must look into it.

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  10. Tuesday 2nd.March BBC2

    Professor Apleby did little to reassure the public. No mention was made of the carers and the satisfactory treatments available. If anything he would have furher left sufferers unwilling to attend their GP. or contact the Mental health Teams. Neither did he raise hope by telling of the interesting and helpful research that is taking place and showing the efforts which are being made to give relief to those who suffer.

    • Good points, Pat, thank you. Yet more examples of how the documentary was, at best, an inadequate presentation of the whole picture related to mental illness in this country.

      Thanks for commenting!

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