Ask me about what I would change about societal attitutes towards mental health issues and I’d have a long, long list. However, pretty close to the top of the list would be addressing the attitude of the media towards mental health.
Yesterday I was sat reading my Twitter feed when I saw the following from @TorbayCID:
“Torquay suicidal man cost Network Rail £37,000 in delays with latest attempt http://www.torquayheraldexpress.co.uk/Torquay-suicidal-man-cost-Network-Rail-37-000/story-19614746-detail/story.html …”
I had to read it twice to make sure what it said was actually what it said. Unfortunately the words didn’t change and I was left aghast. Look at it first time and you see factual reporting. Pure fact, Nothing wrong with that, right? But reporting something involving emotion, perhaps acknowledging that emotion may also be involved, would be appropriate. It chose to single out the financial impact of someone who has tried to commit suicide multiple times. Ever see something like written about someone with a life-threatening physical health problem?
So I replied. Instead of the massive lecture I wante to give them, I could only reply with the following from my account, @cariad_mawr:
“Suggest good MH care not blame? MT”
@TorbayCID: Torquay suicidal man cost Net.Rail £37,000 in delays w/latest attempt http://www.torquayheraldexpress.co.uk/Torquay-suicidal-man-cost-Network-Rail-37-000/story-19614746-detail/story.html …”
Because if the psychiatric care for this individual had been adequate these acts would not keep happening at the rate that they do.
I have treated psychiatric patients who have been serial trainline disrupters in the past. Yes, there is no denying that their actions cause disruptions, inconveniences and stress to others. In the same way someone having a heart attack in the middle lane of a motorway carriageway can close it for hours and cause delays.
Still, that cold 140-character post from @TorbayCID stayed with me overnight. I recalled a study that was done once, I think in Japan (I wish I could recall the exact details), where people were presented with an individual apparently climbing over the railings of a bridge above a busy road. If the people were close enough that they could make out facial characteristics of the potential jumper, they were relatively understanding. If however, the crowd were further away, where the face of the individual was indistinct, they became impatient and started urging the person to get on with it and jump. Just a matter of distance and visual perspective and their attitude changed pretty much en masse.
Frightening thought, isn’t it?
As I am writing this post, I am reminded of an incident when I was studying at university. I had been on a night out and was returning to my halls of residence, which were on the university hospital site. As I approached the bridge over the dual carriageway I saw people standing around and the traffic stopped. I then made out the sillhouette of a woman leaning over the yellow railings. She was heavily pregnant. Two things struck me as I started forward: firstly that my boyfriend at the time wanted me to ignore it and thought we shouldn’t get involved (we didn’t last long together after that). Secondly, that noone was talking to the woman, who was eerily silent and just staring at the road below. I spoke to one man who introduced himself as a house officer from the A&E department of the hospital, who said he thought she was probably from the mother and baby psychiatric unit on site and that he had called an ambulance but didn’t want to approach her in case she went over. He was saying all of this while she was in earshot. Whether she would have been able to take it in at the time I don’t know, but still. The woman started trying to get her leg over the barrier at this point so I went up to her slowly, saying hello, asking what had brought her to such a place on such a cold wet night, and that I thought it was time she was getting back in the warm. I put my hand on her forearm and after a brief hesitation she took her eyes off the road and I helped her to get down. I walked her back to the mother and baby unit, where an unsmiling nurse showing no emotion at all came to the locked door after I buzzed the intercom and explained who I had with me.
I don’t know why I’ve just shared that, but I have, perhaps because it took no special skill. I was a first year OT student in my first term and I hadn’t ever been presented with that situation before. Just being human and showing a bit of caring was all I could do. Perhaps it could have gone wrong, there are myriad possibilities of outcomes, but it didn’t. I was fortunate that as a student I didn’t have to worry about a professional inquiry or some such if the lady had decided to follow through with her attempt. But all it took was a bit of compassion.
So today I have done the best I can for the individual in the article: I have written about it in my blog and hopefully anyone reading this post will keep an eye out for similar articles reported in this nature and complain, as I hope to do later in the day, to Torbay CID and the Torquay Herald Express.
NOTE: If anyone has a reference for the study I mentioned above regarding attitudes to potential suicide victims I’d be grateful if you could forward it to me for future reference. Many thanks.