[See bottom of post for update] I saw an advert for this programme last night and my heart sank. It is called Horizon: How mad are you? and I groaned inwardly thinking of the way the clumsily worded title reminded me of oh so many media reports of how many mentally ill patients murder people or front page headlines referring to some celebrity losing it. Not to mention the BBC getting someone to speculate on the Prime Minister’s health. [Gimpy] Unlike the vast majority of the complainants in the Brand-Ross-Sachs fiasco (I’m guessing here), I don’t complain about things I haven’t watched or heard but I can hardly wait to find out more about this show because I was already nervously pondering (having seen only a snatch of an advert and remembering nothing but the title) just how bad it could be. I think I may be worrying unduly. I hope so.
The BBC press office* described the programme as addressing profound social stigma and this is what they are going to show:
The programme features 10 volunteers; half have psychiatric disorders, the other half don’t – but who is who? […] Watching the volunteers are three leading experts in mental health who accepted the challenge to work out who is who. This is something they have to do every day, but this process of observation turns out to be far harder than any of them expected. […] Horizon’s own series of tasks, conducted by psychologist Professor Peter Kinderman, probes the line between “normal” and “mad”. But will the individuals who have been affected by mental illness reveal themselves?
I’m uncomfortable with the idea of showing mentally ill and normal** people on national television and having experts playing what seems like a parlour game, trying to guess who’s mad. I’m also uncomfortable with the press release referring to the line between “normal” and “mad”. I’m definitely going to watch the show with interest and I hope my dismay at the title and my prejudice against the idea will not lead me to unfairly judge the programme. I also hope that the Horizon team have managed to find a way to address the stigma of mental illness and that the provocative title will do nothing more than encourage casual viewers to watch the show and perhaps challenge their own ideas about what it means for someone to be mentally ill.
**In the immortal words of Jimmy from Quadrophenia: “Oh, yeah? What’s normal, then?”
Further Reading: Links
2004 story in the Indy on discussions regarding a draft Mental Health Bill. BBC account of an IoP report that found “Mentally ill unlikely to commit murder”, according to the headline. Abstract of a 1985 study in the AJP on the same subject. Interesting piece in the Guardian about difference in views on how to deal with “the dangerous mentally ill”. Stigma of mental illness campaign. DoH paper on attitudes to mental illness. BBC report on campaign.
It’s on BBC iPlayer, for those that can get it. More here from the BBC. Includes video links. The show was apparently inspired by the work of Dr David Rosenhan – who conducted an experiment in the Seventies where sane patients faked symptoms to gain admission to psychiatric hospitals. Apparently, nearly two million watched the first part of the show. Sam Wollaston’s review is interesting and can be seen here: last night’s tv. Discussed on the totally excellent Bad Science forums here. Also blogged by aethelreadtheunread, Horizon: How mad are you?.
One issue that the programme dealt with was trying to diagnose mental disorders on limited evidence. The psychologists on the show referred to the difficulty of doing so, which might make you wonder why they agreed to be on the show in the first place. It also reminded me of previous issues of diagnosing on limited evidence – often without the psychologist / psychiatrist in question actually meeting the person in question. This isn’t something that tends to happen in ‘real life’ as far as I know, but in celebland it is not uncommon.
Something I found interesting was the segment where Yasmin, the experts having missed the fact that she had a psychiatric disorder, spoke of her surprise that it wasn’t obvious that she had a disorder. This is something that’s cropped up before in various places – I’ve noticed that some people who have a psychiatric disorder such as depression seem to feel that people can tell just by looking at them. I know when I’ve been depressed I’ve found that I’m less likely to meet someone’s gaze and I think it’s perhaps because I feel that if they look me in the eye they will be able to tell how I feel. If I’m down I don’t necessarily want anyone else to know about it, not least because I believe there is a social stigma to psychiatric disorders. I hope the programme will have a positive effect in terms of getting people to address the stigma of psychiatric disorders, but I’m not sure the way they’ve gone about it was the best option they had available.
Just to illustrate the media’s thoughtful, sensitive and considerate approach to mental illness, I’ve decided to include links to a couple of pages that show use of pejorative terms relating to mental illness. Here, Paul Hayward decides to label Joey Barton a violent sociopath and refers to NUFC fielding 12 players – ten “normal ones” and two Joey Bartons. The accompanying picture is captioned “headcase”. Nice. “Nutter” is the chosen epithet of the Paisley Daily Express. Very sensitive.