Dear BBC Panorama, About Your Show About SSRIs

To the people behind the BBC Panorama show “A Prescription for Murder”,

I heard about the show before I watched it. On reading the description, I was appalled, but I was hopeful that my shock at the treatment of the topic you mentioned would be misplaced. From my reading of it on your website, you were stating a growing risk to users of SSRI medication becoming homicidal. I wish I was wrong.

On your website, you described your hour long examination of the subject saying:

“Is it possible that a pill prescribed by your doctor can turn you into a killer? Over 40 million prescriptions for SSRI anti-depressants were handed out by doctors last year in the UK. Panorama reveals the¬†devastating side effects on a tiny minority that can lead to psychosis, violence, possibly even murder.¬†With exclusive access to psychiatric reports, court footage and drug company data, reporter Shelley Jofre investigates the mass killings at the 2012 midnight premiere of a Batman movie in Aurora, Colorado. Twenty-four-year-old PhD student James Holmes, who had no record of violence or gun ownership, murdered 12 and injured 70. Did the SSRI anti-depressant he had been prescribed play a part in the killings? Panorama has uncovered other cases of murder and extreme violence which could be linked to psychosis developed after the taking of SSRIs – including a father who strangled his 11-year-old son. Panorama asks if enough is known about this rare side effect, and if doctors are unwittingly prescribing what could be a prescription for murder.”

So far, so tabloid. I was hoping to be proved wrong in watching your programme, but unfortunately, this was not the case. For the hour long show, there were a lot of “might” and “Maybe” responses from the medical professionals interviewed by Shelley Jofre. The only people who seemed sure without a doubt that these drugs were as dangerous as billed were your host and unqualified relatives of those involved in these tragic events. Jofre spent the entire hour pushing an agenda of fear towards the use of SSRIs. It was disappointing, to say the least.

I was under the impression that Public Service Broadcasting was supposed to be for the greater good. What good does a programme like this give to society? SSRI medication saves lives in many cases. Mine included. I have been taking Sertraline for the last three years, since my diagnosis with PostNatal Depression. At the time of my diagnosis, I was reluctant to turn to medication initially. It was with the support of my family, my partner and my doctor that I started a regimen of antidepressants. At the time I was in a fog of depression. I couldn’t see a light. It took a few weeks for the medications to kick in, but once they did it was like night and day. I started enjoying my son, being his mother, my life again. I stopped crying every time he cried. Sertraline stopped the dark, depressive thoughts and made it possible for me to live again. For that, I will be forever thankful.

Of course, my use of Sertraline has not been without consequence or side effect. Like many, I’ve discovered a new level of hot flashes, weight gain and loss of libido while taking them. However, the benefits far outweigh the cons in this situation. Sitting in front of the information leaflet tonight, I’m aware that “psychosis, aggression, suicidal thoughts” are all listed in the Rare Side Effects (less than 1 in 1000) section. These were all discussed with me at different stages of the last three years including the first appointment. They’re also in the same category as things like hiccups, cancer and sore mouth. To me, this would tend to indicate a rarity where “literally anything goes” is implied. The programme stated that in the case of Holmes, the shooter in Colorado, he did not mention his homicidal fantasies or feelings of violence to his doctors. At the time of the shooting, he had stopped taking the drugs. However, the thoughts of Jofre looking at the evidence were still that the drugs were definitely to blame. She referenced cases where parents killed children,

I hope so much that people will not watch this programme and worry, but I know that they will. While you stated a few times in the programme that it is unwise to change a medication regime without medical consultation, I don’t think that quite covers your responsibility to your viewership. There is enough stigma in our society about psychological disorders, about use of antidepressants and medications to manage mood. It is a conversation which is only just after starting to become audible above a whisper. In airing a programme like this, and putting your name behind it, you are potentially after hushing it back into the shadows again. So much good much-needed work has been done by different groups over the past 15 years to normalise mental health issues. But a programme with the stamp of the national broadcaster, a broadcaster respected throughout the world stigmatising the use of SSRIs for people with genuine need? That is damaging and there is no way to know just how much.

The experts are coming out in force to discredit the theories put forward in this documentary. However, the fears of there being no smoke without fire are seen in many other cases including use of vaccines and opioids. Had I been more vulnerable watching, as I have seen many others cite this evening, I would likely have considered simply stopping my regime. The possible effects of this could be catastrophic. I honestly hope that BBC Panorama don’t wind up with blood on their hands for this display of complete lack of understanding. In future, I hope that their producers will think before they air a programme so filled with “whataboutery” and unsubstantiated evidence. There is a difference between warnings about real risks, like you have done in so many programmes before, and scaremongering, which is all this one is good for.

I hope this gives you food for thought, and that the same mistakes will not be made in future episodes of BBC Panorama.

******

Have you seen the BBC Panorama programme in question? What are your thoughts?

BadMammy is on Facebook.

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4 comments / Add your comment below

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with your post. I wouldn’t be around today if it weren’t for SSRIs. Iv’e found that often the people who rant about the dangers of antidepressants are the people who have never suffered from clinical depression.

  2. I’m with you 100%.

    That Panorama programme was made either to destroy Pfizer and Glaxo Smithkline’s reputations and companies, or to restore the always flimsied reputation of that “Professor” from Bangor, who was shouting the same about Seroxat in a previous Panorama (the findings were the same flimsy rubbish as this programme, or that Holmes kid is trying to appeal something with his case) The judge spoke to Holmes in a way that no Judge would ever do to someone who is truly mentally ill, that Judge clearly saw what I saw. An unrepentant nerd who did not care about his crimes or his victims or their families, who viewed his own existence to be far superior and valuable to the world that the existence of his victims…..that Holmes kid, clearly was not mentally ill, but him&his Narcissitic Personality Disorder was responsible for his crimes….NOT Sertraline. Holmes reported a change in mood a few days after starting this medication, now, I’m no psychiatrist, but have been on Sertraline before, and I was told by my doctor that medications such as Sertraline can take up to 3 to 4 weeks before I’d physically notice any changes or effects. I have been on various anti depressant medications in the past and was told about the 3-4 week period before noticing any effects every time I was prescribed a different medication.
    In the duration of this programme, Panorama even gave Holmes’ parents the impression that their darling beloved would never have killed those people if the bad doctor didn’t give him an anti depressant, and that dad would never have killed his son in the throes of a psychotic breakdown if Seroxat had’nt been introduced to him…..not only that, we quickly saw a couple of other people affected by homicidal violence, be given vindication to their loved ones who committed whatever crimes they did. Minimising personally criminal resposibility by blaming medication. Its total BS, just like this entire programme.

    That Holmes kid created to the most meticulous of detail, a plan to aquire guns, and kill all those innocent people. Someone in the throes of a psychotic episode cannot hide from their symptoms, and just switch it on and off like a social chameleon, that not one person would notice changes in their friend’s behaviour.
    Holmes has Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and during the planning of his so-called “mission”, would create a insanity defence to try to get off the charges, because his inflated ego has told him, that he is smarter that everyone else, Holmes was a highly achieving academic. Highly achieving academics usually have superiority complexes and think they are so much better than those who are not quite as academic as him and those on his level.
    These people often think themselves better and cleverer than police, and by using their so-called intellect, they absolutely think they can beat the law.
    Holmes also calmly went and bought guns, and went to a firing range to acquire experience and accustomise himself to his weapons. If someone was as psychologically disturbed as they were saying Holmes was, it would be outwardly noticeable by this point, and the Firing Range staff reported nothing and were not even asked for an input.
    One would also have to ask how he was able to obtain guns, since those who are on medication for mental illnesses aren’t supposed to be allowed to get guns willy~nilly.
    Then lastly, Holmes would be needing to drive about to get to these places, not to mention plot where he was going to park his car to potentially get away following his atrocities.
    He was clearly driving normally to do all this, obeying stop signs, and driving responsibly or he would have been pulled over. This is another sign that Holmes’ state of mind was not manic, disturbed, agitated, which we would usually see, when one is in the throes of a psychogical/psychotic episode.
    But the Panorama timeline of introducing Sertraline, to the date of Homes’ crimes just does not fit, not only that but even Holmes’ defence did NOT introduce Sertraline as a defence.
    Also, partway into the programme, it was thrown in that Holmes had mental problems during his teens, whereas Panorama did also try to imply that Holmes’ mental problems started when he began therapy and the sertraline, also in his psycholgical evaluation, he said that his difficulties began when he STARTED therapy, but one would be experiencing difficulties before therapy, as these difficulties would be the reason that one approaches a medical professional, which is what Holmes did. So therefore Sertraline is NOT responsible for Holmes’ crimes, no more than Seroxat was responsible for the incidents that the BBC falsely cross-referenced for their total propaganda and falsehoods to frighten already vulnerable people from seeking treatment for depression, because they feel frightened, ashamed, etc.

    Panorama had NO business cross referencing Holmes’ crimes to reduce his level of criminal responsibility, and don’t get me started on the guy who murdered his young son, because in his Sertraline-addled mind, his son (who in the short film clip appeared to have no brain damage at all).The fat guy cried TOTAL crocodile tears over what he did to his son.
    What deranged, out-of-their-mind father, firstly kills his son, but then sits next to him watching TV for SIX hours, walks into a police interview room and calmly shakes the detective’s hand, and then offers up that he’s been on anti depressants for THREE WEEKS and thats probably why he’s committed the most grave of crimes that one could commit against their own flesh and blood. The guy did it to hurt the kid’s mom, he is a piece of sh*t and should spend his every last day behind bars.

    SHAME ON THE BBC FOR TRYING TO HUMANISE MURDER…..by blaming medications, without any other facts about those crimes that were the REAL reasons they were committed, and giving families false hope by claiming falsehoods about medications that MILLIONS of other people use with zero problems. Any side effect usually would be sleep disturbance, nausea/vomiting etc, but these side effects usually dissipate after a few days.
    I imagine that behind the closed door of the psychological therapist, that Holmes and the dad who killed his kid, bullshitted those therapists (who are all bound by patient/doctor confidentiality), to make themselves feel better about the awful crimes they committed.

    That programme really p*ssed me off, can’t you tell?

  3. Our family has been through hell twice because of a family member being prescribed an SSRI. Unfortunately he was one of the few who becomes psychotic and homicidal on the drug. He was taken into hospital both times for a total of about 18 months during his early teens. This program as well as articles I have recently read have confirmed to me what I already strongly suspected, despite the experts so far not appearing too interested. It is me who has had to insist he is not ever prescribed it again. I cannot put my name to this for the sake of his privacy. I appreciate many people rely on these drugs including one or two friends of mine, but it has caused our family untold suffering. I thank God we weren’t seriously physically harmed because we came so close

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