Thursday, March 17, 2016

Update on our Open Letter about BBC Coverage of Mental Health

On Sunday, February 21, 2016, we posted on this site an Open Letter about BBC Coverage of Mental Health. That letter attracted over 1,500 signatories (I'm still processing them, I'm afraid).

We sent that letter to Lord Tony Hall, BBC Director General, and I'm pleased to say we've now received a reply:


Dear Professor Kinderman

Thank you for getting in touch and raising your concerns with us. I know you have now spoken to David Brown – producer of the In the Mind season – and I hope you were reassured by this conversation.

Best wishes

Tony Hall


We've been considering our response, and we've decided to reply as follows:


Dear Lord Hall,

Thank you for your note.

Several of us have spoken briefly with David Brown. However he informed us that he was only responsible for the news items and therefore could not comment on the documentaries. We continue to be very concerned by the issues outlined in our letter. We are somewhat surprised at your suggestion that we might have been happy to see this as the end of the matter.   

As you know, our expression of concern was originally drafted by a group of 19 authors, including senior members of all the major mental health professions as well as people with personal experience of the issues in question.  You will also be aware that over 1,500 people from a wide range of backgrounds  have asked to add their names to our letter, as have a number of groups, charities and professional organisations, some of them of key significance in the UK mental health field. We have, in addition, been contacted since by many others who would have signed the document had we not sent it in to you after just a week.

It is always good to have informal conversations with TV producers - we have, between us, quite a lot of broadcasting experience, and are used to such conversations.  But our letter addressed an issue of substantive concern, namely that some of the BBC coverage failed to acknowledge that mental health problems can often be an understandable response to the events and circumstances of people's lives and, instead, uncritically presented one narrow and contested view: namely, the idea that such problems are illnesses with their origin in the brain.

These issues matter because of their potential impact on service-users and their families. A number of us are practising clinicians who have witnessed the impact of some of the programmes in our work. Clients tell us again and again of the crucial importance for recovery of finding a way of understanding and naming their difficulties that makes sense to them personally in their particular context. Many found the diagnostic labelling and message of 'lifelong illness' insisted upon in the Stephen Fry programme deeply invalidating. The statement made in the programme that the 'disease' usually gets worse, with episodes ultimately occurring closer together, has led some to feel very hopeless; a few actively suicidal.  While this may be the experience of some people who struggle with extreme mood states, it is certainly not the experience of all. Indeed, many go on to make good recovery and are able to manage without, or limit their use of, medication.

The more than 1,500 signatories to our letter deserve, we believe, a formal, considered response to the concerns we expressed.

As a practical suggestion, we would welcome the opportunity to introduce senior BBC editors, directors, producers and writers to people - both professionals and experts by experience - who would be able to explain why these issues matter so much to people who have experienced the discrimination associated with mental health problems and who have had to fight to receive the kind of humane care that should be routine.

We look forward to hearing from you.

With best wishes, 

Peter Kinderman, Professor of Clinical Psychology, University of Liverpool & President-Elect, British Psychological Society
Jill Anderson, Co-ordinator, Mental Health In Higher Education Project
Richard Bentall, Professor of Clinical Psychology, University of Liverpool
Anne Cooke, Consultant Clinical Psychologist & Clinical Director, Doctoral Programme in Clinical Psychology, Canterbury Christ Church University
John Cromby, Reader in Psychology, University of Leicester
Angela Gilchrist, Consultant Clinical Psychologist and Senior Lecturer, Doctoral Programme in Clinical Psychology, Canterbury Christchurch University
Nicky Hayward, Mental Health Campaigner, Survivor and Blogger 
Sue Holttum, Senior Lecturer, Doctoral Programme in Clinical Psychology, Canterbury Christ Church University
Steven Jones, Professor of Clinical Psychology, University of Lancaster
Lucy Johnstone, Consultant Clinical Psychologist
Laura Lea, Coordinator of Service User and Carer Involvement, Doctoral Programme in Clinical Psychology, Canterbury Christ Church University
John McGowan, Academic Director, Doctoral Programme in Clinical Psychology, Canterbury Christ Church University
Ian Marsh, Senior Lecturer in Occupational Therapy, Canterbury Christ Church University
Joanna Moncrieff, Senior Lecturer in Psychiatry, University College London
David Pilgrim, Professor of Health and Social Policy, University of Liverpool
Mark Radcliffe, Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing, Kings College London
Rai Waddingham, Hearing Voices Network and International Society for Psychological and Social Approaches to Psychosis, and with personal experience of psychosis
Jay Watts, Clinical Psychologist and Psychotherapist, Queen Mary, University of London
Paul Wilson, Head of Mental Health Services for Sirona


  1. I am glad you are continuing to follow this up. Don't let them feel they can just mumble and continue as before - keep fighting. I am so glad you are doing this.

  2. Agree with previous comment - thanks for continuing to pursue this important issue.

  3. I would like to add my support to this response.

    One way for the BBC to redeem their journalism would be for them to commission a series called 'In the world' - about how social and environmental factors come to bare on psychological wellbeing.

  4. This is such an important issue. There seems to be a bit of a backlash from psychiatrists against a psycho-social model. Having been a mental health service user, it was all about me getting the confidence to re-enter the world of work, getting a home, getting friends and finding love and belonging. Drugs may do it for some people, but we focus too much on access to 'treatments, beds and docs' and not enough on other wortwhile options. Keep up the 'campaign' and don't let the BBC or anyone at the top of the RCPsych (or indeed intellectual comedians/actors) get in the way of what's best...

    David Gilbert