A Prescription For Murder

Wow! What a title! Sounds like an Agatha Christie novel or a cheap horror movie. It’s actually the title of a BBC Panorama documentary which hypothesises a link between SSRI antidepressant medication and an increased propensity to commit violent acts. 

Is there a link? Statistically yes maybe. A very tiny percentage of people taking SSRIs experience psychosis as a side effect, but statistically more people are killed as a result of trying to put on a pair of trousers. So why is there not a documentary about trouser deaths called Leg Ends Of The Fall? I believe it is because of the manner of the respective causes of death. 

Accidental deaths caused by embarrassing wardrobe malfunctions would be uncomfortable, voyeuristic subject matter. You don’t kick a man when he’s down through no fault of his own. So what’s the difference between that and someone who’s mentally ill through no fault of their own?

It’s because violent mentally ill people are juicy subject matter. A ratings winner. The subject retains a ghoulish car crash fascination. The notion that mental illness equates to violent, dangerous derangement is deeply embedded in the public’s psyche. Why else were lunatics locked in mental asylums, strapped in straitjackets, if not to prevent them from being a danger to others?

There are many variations of the escaped mental patient urban myth, with invariably innocents being slaughtered by the rampaging, almost supernatural human monster. The thing cannot be reasoned with; it is beyond reason. It is animalistic, bloodthirsty, evil. Something to be hunted and killed on sight. 

The factual reality is that mentally ill people are more likely to be a victim of violence than the general population. Only 3% of mentally ill people ever commit a criminal act of aggression. That means that 97% never commit an act of aggression. The person a mentally ill person is most likely to harm or kill is themselves. Suicide is the biggest cause of death in men aged 20-49 in the U.K. and the biggest cause of death of teenage girls worldwide. 

What then is the basis for a 21st century documentary about mentally ill killers, that lingers over gory details? According to Shelley Jofre, the BBC reporter who made the documentary, it is a public interest story. I see that it’s a story the public will be interested in, but is it in the public interest?

The Panorama programme claims that the incredibly rare side effect of SSRI medication causing psychosis, potentially leading to aggression and violence, needs to be more widely known to both the general public and to people taking SSRIs. The problem with this argument is that family doctors and prescribing psychiatrists already weigh up potential side effect risks and discuss them with patients before prescribing. And there are many possible side effects from taking SSRI medications, the most common of which include weight gain, sedation, fatigue and loss of sex drive. The average person taking an SSRI has been informed by their doctor of likely side effects, thoroughly read the leaflet that comes with the medication, probably read up some more about the risks on Wikipedia and discussed the risks with other people taking the same medication. The vast majority of mentally ill people are already very well aware of the potential and actual side effects of taking SSRI medications. 

What about the wider population? Don’t they deserve to know the danger too? If the 40,000,000 prescriptions for SSRI medications in the U.K. every year are going to trigger a nationwide bloodbath, don’t the public have a right to be warned? Therein lies the central weakness in the programme’s premise. 40,000,000 SSRI prescriptions per year already in the U.K., no mental patient slasher movie apocalypse as a result. 

I don’t deny that there are records of isolated cases where an SSRI may have contributed to a tragic incident. But is the potential danger both proven and statistically significant enough to warrant making an hour long documentary about it? What about the much more prevalent side effect of an increased risk of death by suicide among teenagers when they first start taking some, but not all, SSRI medications? That kills more people. Surely that’s more newsworthy?

The unpalatable reality is that few care about mentally ill teenagers killing themselves. It’s dull TV, compared to bloodsoaked rampaging mental patients. Real Hannibal Lecters lurking in our midst. 

This perpetuates the myth that mentally ill people are inherently violent and a well behaved one is just one waiting to explode in a killing frenzy at any moment. Drugs are supposed to suppress this huge danger, not enhance it. A dribbling, sedated, locked up mental patient is the only safe one. 

This is of course total nonsense. One in four of us will suffer a mental illness in our lifetime. The vast majority of people will be treated with a combination of medication and therapy. Out in society. Not locked up. Normal, but unwell people, not dangerous in any way. 

What are the likely outcomes of the documentary being aired?

There is a small possibility that a handful of people who are taking SSRIs and experiencing psychosis as a side effect will realise what has been wrong and seek help and advice from their doctor. This is a good thing. 

Something which is much more likely is that some mentally ill people currently benefitting from taking SSRI medications will stop taking them, to avoid the remote possibility of becoming violent. The benefits of that medication will then stop. Clinically depressed people will slide back into the abyss. People with anxiety disorders will retreat back into tormented Hell. Some of these people may well take their own lives as a result. The documentary could possibly cause more deaths, not fewer. 

Then there is the stigma issue. Some think that the term “mental health stigma” is overused. In the face of the ongoing tide of derision, fear, mistrust and demonisation of mentally ill people, I can assure you that the term could be used much more indeed. Just like black people and gay people have had to stand up and say enough is enough, mentally ill people are now standing up to be counted. 

My name is Patrick. I suffer from clinical depression, severe OCD and PTSD. I am a mentally ill person, a loving husband, a good father. I take a high dose of Prozac, an SSRI medication. It helps me to function normally. I’m not an unquestioning fanboy of Prozac. I have side effects from taking it, but I’m zero danger to anyone. Enough is enough. The unwarranted stigma against all the ordinary people just like me has to stop. This documentary will perpetuate stigma and prejudice. That is harmful and dangerous. Much more dangerous than a rare medication side effect. 

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Vote for the other guy. 

Get off your arse and vote!

Only 36.8% of the U.K. voting population voted for the Conservatives on 5th May 2015. That’s all it took to let them continue dismantling, asset stripping & privatising the NHS and social care system in the UK. 

63.2% of the voting population either voted for someone else or didn’t vote at all. We ended up with another Tory government because of fear, self interest and disinterested apathy. 

Do you want that to continue? No?

Well what are you going to do about it then? What am I going to do about it? 

We need to vote differently. We need to vote tactically. But how could we agree on which non Tory candidate to vote for?

It’s pretty straightforward. Vote for the other guy.

What other guy?

The man or woman most likely to beat the Tory in your constituency. 

But they’re Labour! I’m a LibDem supporter. I can’t vote for a party which isn’t the LibDems. 

Yes you can. It’s a protest vote against the Tories. The same applies if you’re a Green Party supporter. Or a Labour supporter in a constituency where “the other guy” would be the LibDems or Greens. 

I’ve never voted Labour. I can’t stand Jeremy Corbyn, but I will be voting Labour this time, in the hope of unseating the pompous prick of a Tory MP that’s in the seat now. 

I’m asking you to do the same. No matter how much you despise the party most likely to beat the Tory in your constituency, ask yourself, “do I hate them more than seeing another Tory government?” If the answer is “No”, vote for them. Encourage your friends, colleagues and family to vote for them. Encourage apathetic voters to get up off their lazy arses and vote for them. 

Are you with me so far?

So, just say we all do this, won’t it end up in a total clusterfuck? Well possibly, but it would be hard to achieve a clusterfuck anywhere near the scale of the Tory/UKIP caused post-Brexit-vote economic meltdown. 
I’d rather have a coalition of Labour, LibDem, Green, Plaid Cwmry, SNP and independents than have the Tories continue with their anti poor, anti disabled, anti refugee, anti people onslaught. 

Will people-led tactical voting work?

If enough people do it, yes. Every single unseated Tory MP is a small victory for us, the little guy. A small slice of revenge against those who would throw us aside. 

What if it doesn’t work?

What could be the worst possible outcome? Another Tory government anyway? That’s going to happen for sure if we do nothing. 

We can’t go quietly like lambs to slaughter. Regardless of the outcome, we need to make a protest, make a stand. 

Get off your arse and vote for the other guy! Every single vote can make a difference. Let’s take these Tory bastards down. 

Here’s a link to a tactical voting site which lets you see who best to vote for where you are:

www.tactical2017.com

The closest marginal constituencies, where every single vote is crucial are:

  • Aberconwy: Vote Labour
  • Bath: Vote Lib Dem
  • Bedford: Vote Labour
  • Berwick-upon-Tweed: Vote Lib Dem
  • Bolton West: Vote Labour
  • Brecon & Radnorshire: Vote Lib Dem
  • Brighton, Kemptown: Vote Labour
  • Bristol North West: Vote Labour
  • Bury North: Vote Labour
  • Calder Valley: Vote Labour
  • Camborne and Redruth: Vote Labour
  • Canterbury: Vote Labour
  • Cardiff North: Vote Labour
  • Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire: Vote Labour
  • Cheadle: Vote Lib Dem
  • Cheltenham: Vote Lib Dem
  • Colchester: Vote Lib Dem
  • Corby: Vote Labour
  • Croydon Central: Vote Labour
  • Derby North: Vote Labour
  • Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale & Tweeddale: Vote SNP
  • Eastbourne: Vote Lib Dem
  • Gower: Vote Labour
  • Hazel Grove: Vote Lib Dem
  • Kingston and Surbiton: Vote Lib Dem
  • Lewes: Vote Lib Dem
  • Lincoln: Vote Labour
  • Morley & Outwood: Vote Labour
  • Oxford West & Abingdon: Vote Lib Dem
  • Peterborough: Vote Labour
  • Plymouth, Moor View: Vote Labour
  • Plymouth, Sutton & Devonport: Vote Labour
  • Portsmouth South: Vote Lib Dem
  • Reading East: Vote Labour
  • Southampton, Itchen: Vote Labour
  • St Ives: Vote Lib Dem
  • Sutton and Cheam: Vote Lib Dem
  • Telford: Vote Labour
  • Thornbury and Yate: Vote Lib Dem
  • Thurrock: Vote Labour
  • Torbay: Vote Lib Dem
  • Twickenham: Vote Lib Dem
  • Vale of Clwyd: Vote Labour
  • Vauxhall: Vote Lib Dem
  • Warrington South: Vote Labour
  • Watford: Vote Labour
  • Waveney: Vote Labour
  • Weaver Vale: Vote Labour
  • Yeovil: Vote Lib Dem

But don’t take my word for it, look at these sites too: 

Key seats guide – click here

Guardian tactical voting guide – click here

Now get out and vote!

Irish or not?

Or, when is a shamrock not a shamrock?

Many people, Americans especially, when visually representing St Patrick’s Day, Ireland or Irishness use an image of a four leafed clover. This may derive from the combined notions of “the luck of the Irish” and of four leafed clovers being a lucky omen. That is as close an actual link as I can think of. 

This concept is wrong. A load of oul’ ballicks. 

Let me tell you a little secret known only to me and every bookie on the planet. The Irish aren’t even particularly lucky, certainly not when it comes to betting on the horses. 

Yes, you can get four leafed clovers in Ireland, but they’re no more a symbol of Ireland than a lucky rabbit’s foot, the lucky underpants you wear to all football games, a bald eagle or a red maple leaf. 

The symbol which is associated with St Patrick and therefore Ireland is the shamrock. But hey, they both look sort of the same. A four leafed clover, a three leafed shamrock. Big deal. What does it matter?

It matters fundamentally. The shamrock is associated with St Patrick exactly BECAUSE it has three leaves. St Patrick used a three leafed shamrock to demonstrate to the pagan Irish the concept of The Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three parts of one whole, connected together. Three parts. Not four. 

This isn’t just a matter of petty pedantry or visual semantics. To celebrate a Saint’s day by demonstrating a fundamental lack of understanding of one of his most famous teachings is dumb, lazy and disrespectful. 

So if you’re going to celebrate Irishness on St Patrick’s Day, show the man some respect and celebrate it correctly, with shamrock and a wee drop of Guinness or Whiskey. Don’t celebrate “Patty’s Day” with four leafed clovers and lager beer dyed green. Real Irish people don’t do that. 

Four Leafed Clover:

  

Shamrock:

   

  

The “Just Pray” Advert

Yesterday, a Twitter account I follow tweeted a link to the new Church Of England cinema advert. I watched it. I liked it. I liked that it was encouraging people to pray informally, whenever and wherever they chose to, as they went about their day. The advert was well made, had a good mix of people from different backgrounds, doing all sorts of activities, while saying The Lord’s Prayer. The intercut dialogue-montage technique has been done before, but it worked well here, suggesting a commonality of activity and belief, that Anglicans are linked by an invisible bond of faith. 

I saw it as primarily an advert for informal prayer and only secondarily an advert for The Church Of England. I would even say that it could be taken as an advert for prayer and reflection in general, regardless of faith or belief. I often pray informally. Rarely do I say a formally worded prayer though, preferring to use my own words. I believe strongly in having a living faith, so praying while doing other things seems quite normal to me. I go to church too, but the vast majority of time, we’re not in church, so it makes sense to remind people that living a faith is an everyday doing thing, not just a Sunday morning bums on pews thing. 

It surprised me then to learn that the advert had apparently been banned from being shown in cinemas. I wondered why such an innocuous piece of communication would be banned. It wasn’t hard selling Anglicanism. It wasn’t claiming that Anglicanism was The One True Faith and that all non Anglicans were heretics, destined to burn in Hell for eternity. Its content wasn’t prejudicial against any group of people, whether religious, political, sexual, racial or cultural. It was actually a very “safe” advert in that respect. You’d have to try pretty damned hard to take offence at it, even if you were a regular objector to the promotion of “sky fairies”. It was a nice little film. Not particularly distinctive or memorable, but not the kind of thing that would usually incur a ban either. 

Odd. Very odd indeed. 

The next few references to the advert on Twitter all referred to its being “banned”. Some supported the ban, some were apparently incensed by the ban. I remained bemused by the ban. Was there something I had missed? A copy of the Quran being desecrated in the background? A gay rights flag being burned? I watched it again forensically, looking for the potentially controversial thing I must have missed. It wasn’t there. The advert was safe, nice, innocuous, inoffensive, unremarkable. 

It was then that I learned it hadn’t been singled out and banned at all, instead merely being subject to a consistent policy by DCM of not accepting and not showing ANY advert which had either political or religious content. Assuming that this is the truth, that it was a pre-existing policy, it seems fair enough to me that the company remained consistent in its manner of doing business. 

I wondered about the Archbishop Of Canterbury’s reaction. He was apparently livid at the advert being “banned”. The Church Of England Director of communications, the reverend Arun Arora was surprised at the company’s refusal to screen the advert. As someone who creates advertising for clients, it made me wonder if the advertising agency media planner was doing their job properly. Did Arun Arora, representing  the client, not think to double check that the advert would be acceptable to be broadcast in cinemas?

With my cynical professional head on, I think that there are two possible scenarios. The total balls-up or the cunning masterplan. 

The Total Balls-Up

The Church Of England commissioned an advertising agency to produce a campaign to promote prayer as part of everyday life. The budget was tight – certainly not enough to buy TV airtime, but the client wanted “a filmed advert”. The agency’s solution? An advert that would be shown in cinemas, along with the trailers, before the film. A reasonable enough solution for a project with a tight media budget. Given the subject matter though, a professional agency would have confirmed, before even pitching the idea to the client, that DCM would be prepared to show the advert in cinemas. Apparently, the agency didn’t do this. They pitched the idea, made the advert, got it passed by the BBFC for broadcast and then blithely sent the files for showing, not checking at any stage. Oops! That’s a very expensive way to find out a company’s policy of not accepting religious content in adverts. Much egg on face all round. A total balls-up of biblical proportions. 

The Cunning Masterplan

I really hope this is the real sequence of events.

The Church Of England commissioned an advertising agency to produce a campaign to promote prayer as part of everyday life. The budget was tight – certainly not enough to buy TV airtime, but the client wanted “a filmed advert”. The agency’s solution? An advert that would be announced as intended to be screened in cinemas, along with the trailers, before the film. But the agency knew full well that the advert would be rejected because of DCM’s policy on content. There was no intention to actually show the advert in cinemas, incurring the media cost. The intention was always to deliberately create a controversy about the advert being “banned”. 

This would generate huge, viral awareness of the advert. It would make the advert seem more edgy, cool, relevant, newsworthy. It would deliver massive, great value media exposure for the advert. Most importantly, the campaign would be totally bang on brief, making the concept of an everyday living faith a popular talking point in the run up to Christmas. If it was indeed planned like this, it’s a masterclass in achieving maximum value for minimum budget and imaginatively meeting a challenging brief in today’s increasingly secular society. Getting lots of people to talk about praying while getting on with your day? Job done. 

But which is it? Epic balls-up or advertising masterclass? It could easily be either. Which do you reckon?