Monthly Archives: March 2015

Last time I checked, depression didn’t make people crash their planes…

On Tuesday the Germanwings flight 4U 9525 tragically crashed into the French Alps, killing everyone on board. Naturally, there has been a lot of speculation as to why the plane went down – terrorism? Engine failure? Or the current theory – suicide?

Whatever the reason, the media have a responsibility to report appropriately. This morning, they made a fool of themselves. The majority of headlines linked the pilot’s mental health to his deliberate crashing of the plane, implying that he was a murderer and this was directly because of his depression. Making such sweeping statements is damaging – for both people who struggle with their mental health and for those who may not know a lot about mental health. It perpetuates the existing stigma that surrounds mental health, silencing those who need help. But imagine you didn’t know a lot about mental health problems, and the only things you were being told were things like this morning’s headlines, that people with depression were basically murderers. That’s not helpful for anyone! Of course, if that is the only information you are fed about mental health problems, you’ll adopt a stigmatized view. Newspapers are full of news (supposedly). They are trusted sources, and that’s why it’s so important that they take responsibility for appropriate reporting when stories come up that include a discussion about mental health.

The headlines this morning were pretty dire: The Daily Mail, charming as always, asked “Why on Earth was he allowed to fly?” claiming that the pilot had a long history of depression. Well, maybe because people who suffer with depression generally don’t fly their planes into the side of a mountain. The Daily Mirror announced “Killer pilot suffered from depression” in nice, bold letters, offering it as an explanation. At first glance this presumes that his depression was the cause of the tragedy. Thanks for that. The Daily Express offered up “Why jet crash pilot turned into killer” underneath writing “He was jilted and depressed”, again as a half-hearted excuse of an explanation. Personally, I think that the Sun trumped the headlines I have seen this morning, simply writing “Madman in cockpit”. Nice to see them flying the flag for reducing stigma. It seems that the UK press missed the memo this morning that says that tackling stigma is everyone’s business. It would also appear that they momentarily forgot the fact that they can have such a massive impact on people’s perceptions of different issues, mental health included.

I’d like to take this opportunity to point out that not once have I hurt anyone deliberately. (Oh and I have those dangerous mental health problems too, the ones that turn people into murders apparently) Nor has anyone else who I know. People with mental health problems are much more likely to be the victims of violence rather than the perpetrators, not that the media would let you believe it. Globally, 350 million people suffer from depression (WHO). Take a minute to think about that figure… It’s a lot right? Are all of those 350 million people going to take their lives along with 150 others? Probably not.

We’ll probably never know what the pilot’s state of mind was during that flight. His depression may not have played a part. Jumping on the bandwagon and sensationalism just seem to be the media’s favorite things to take part in. A quick, catchy headline is short-sighted, it doesn’t look at the potential damage that could be caused by publishing it. If we’re going to tackle the issue of stigma, we all need to play a part, including (and especially) the media.


The importance of a diagnosis?

Whilst you read this, please bear in mind that I am not a mental health professional. I am a service user who has been in the system for long enough to have been assigned an array of different diagnoses and labels in order to figure out what was wrong with me. Oh and these are literally just a collection of thoughts, with no real rhyme or reason to them…

I’m not “anti-diagnosis” by any stretch of the imagination. I really do believe that a diagnosis can be beneficial. By diagnosing someone accurately, you can then go onto providing appropriate treatment, whether that be therapy, medication, something else, or a mixture. There would be little use in incorrectly diagnosing someone, offering them an intervention which didn’t work, and then wondering why, 6 months later, little to no progress had been made. But how easy is it to accurately diagnose someone? In my experience, it seems to be quite hard. I have wandered for years through both inpatient and outpatient services, every so often being told that my diagnosis had changed, that the guys in charge had decided that I was no longer this or that. And I get it, diagnoses can change. You can ‘recover’ from something. But from what I can gather, the problem they faced was that my symptoms would overlap. Were my suicide attempts a result of depression? BPD? Of trauma? The intermittent nature of  the diagnoses I received led me to question the validity of them. How could someone outside of my head, not experiencing what I was, tell me what was wrong with me with any degree of certainty? It’s not a broken bone, you cannot just x-ray me to figure out what’s up. There was a point where I almost refused to acknowledge that diagnoses meant anything, however through my stubborn nature and my belief that a diagnosis didn’t exist, I ended up invalidating myself massively and getting increasingly frustrated as my distress was VERY real to me, but didn’t seem that way to others. I am however past that stage, and I do ‘believe in’ and see the use in a psychiatric diagnosis, although I do still have reservations about the potential transient nature of them!

There are a group of people who think that a diagnosis could do more harm than good. I suppose an obvious example would be the labeling theory: where the behaviour of an individual is said to be influenced by labels that are placed on them. Some would argue that mental health problems are a societal construct and people who are mentally ill are simply those who do not conform to the norms of society, resulting in the ‘mentally ill’ label. Once they have this label, they live up to the reputation and remain ill. I don’t agree with this, I think that it is a potentially damaging approach to take. A label can urge and encourage people to seek help. Most people who recognize that they are ill or hurt do get help – if I fell down the stairs and thought that I had hurt myself seriously I would probably go to A&E. If there I was told that I needed certain treatment, I would probably say yes! Unfortunately the opposite can be true of some who struggle with their mental health, a diagnosis can be incredibly stigmatizing and people may choose to suffer in silence rather than approach a professional or their family/friends. This is obviously damaging for the individual and a barrier to them seeking help.

On the whole, I do think that a diagnosis serves a purpose. Personally, I’m not sure how much importance I place on mine when I am given them, but I think that in the grand scheme of psychiatry they can be incredibly important.  They still seem to me quite telling of a professional’s preference (I’ve heard of some professionals who refuse to diagnose certain conditions, or those who diagnose most of their patients with the same diagnosis…) but they can be a useful tool in facilitating someone’s recovery.

“Future in mind” report and the promise of £££?!

Today marks the launch of the “Future in mind” report, setting out recommendations in the hope of improving children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. 

Now, I do a lot of campaigning. I am also a CAMHS service user and so getting CYP mental health up the agenda makes me a very happy person! However my issue comes when I perceive what others see as concern and positive change as tokenism. Unfortunately, this is how I saw the launch of the taskforce report and Clegg’s recent ‘pledge’ to allocate £1.25bn of the Budget to mental health services.

I’m sure that many politicians do care about improving mental health services, Norman Lamb being one, but there is a “too little, too late” vibe around the entire thing. We could have put our energy into attempting to secure decent CAMHS services for our young people 5 years ago. Instead, our funding has been cut (in 2008/09 £758m spent was on CAMHS in real terms, compared to the £717m in 2012/13, the last year for which figures are available) resulting in a shortage of beds, resources and staff. 

“But, Stella!! We know this! It’s better late than never!” I hear you say. That’s very true, but – call me cynical – I fail to see how the money will make a substantial impact. It will make an impact, yes, and it is better than nothing, yes. But once it’s broken down over 5 years and into CCGs (of which there are 211) and further than that, into the CAMHS services that each individual CCG provides, it doesn’t leave a lot. I fear that a large chunk of the money will be used to replenish services and get them back to the levels that they were at before the majority of the cuts were made, before we can see any real improvement. 

As for the report, I have read it and I agree with the majority of recommendations made, but I’m sure that all the suggestions are ideas that staff and service users have been requesting since the beginning. Should all of the changes be implemented, CAMHS would be getting a pretty major facelift! Even in fairly ‘structural’ terms, with a recommendation for scrapping the tiered model and introducing another such as the Thrive model, on which I have reservations. 

As the pressure of the election rises – along with my cynicism(!) – so do the election promises. Politicians need to cover all bases and make as many people as they can willing to vote for them. Making CYP mental health an interest serves well, as not often has it been an issue of much concern. Without meaning to sound condescending, it almost seems like a niche issue to cover.