The week of January 22 to 27 a series of stories of the death of a 14 year old young woman (MR) horrified many people in Britain. This was first item on the BBC news for several days and on the front page of newspapers like the Guardian pushing Brexit, the US Government closure, Venezuela and Huawei aside.
The way the story ran the new social media were to blame. Instagram helped kill my daughter. It had pretty well caused her to die by suicide by all but forcing imagery of suicide onto her phone and into her mind. Facebook bosses were called to account. The Secretary of State for Health appeared on prime-time television saying the State might have to act to ban social media unless Instagram and Facebook got its house in order. Coverage of the events mentioned a group called Papyrus.
The story, along with the photographs of the young woman, was heartbreaking as the death by suicide of any 14 year old would be. While the extent to which it became a media event might have left some wondering, it was not a story anyone would want to ask questions about. But an email from Papyrus reproduced below with my response left me more than wondering – particularly as she had died two years before.
As outlined in this recent TedX talk and in a talk to the Welsh Assembly, there has been great concern about children’s mental health recently.
This crisis – the greatest failing of the NHS according to the Secretary of State for Health – has also been an occasion for the Old Media like the BBC and Newspapers to make a whipping boy of the new media. Great if their efforts improve children’s mental health, but its not clear that this flaying of social media won’t do more harm than good.
Was this sad event just an occasion for the Old Media to be even more cynical than the New Media? Given its timing, was it an event that suited the Conservative Party – get Brexit off front-stage?
The single greatest cause of suicide and suicidality in young people is likely to be the medication they take. But despite being repeatedly handed a story about how the entire literature on these pills is ghost-written and the data inaccessible and that regulators have approved drugs on the back of negative trials and Guidelines bodies like NICE recommend these same drugs despite knowing the trials are negative, the BBC have repeatedly flunked handling the story and the Guardian and other newspapers are as bad.
In the face of fewer suicides and suicidal events than the clinical trial evidence would point to, one has to wonder if social media sites like Instagram might not even be saving lives. The only place teenagers are likely to hear that it might be their meds that are giving them horrific thoughts of mutilation and death is on social media platforms. It is only there they are likely to pick up strategies to minimise the problem – perhaps by pretending to take the pills.
They won’t hear it from the BBC or the Guardian – all they will hear about is take the pills and don’t believe the Fake News on social media.
We don’t know what medicines this young woman was on. There are a hundred medicines that might trigger suicidality in a young woman from antidepressants to antibiotics to oral contraceptives and others.
In the case of people posting horrific images on Instagram, it has to be a racing certainty that many of these are on meds that can induce horrific images they would never have otherwise had. So even if MR was on no pills, someone else’s pills may have helped to do her in.
A leitmotif of the Brexit debate has been that Britain is open for business.
Being open for business in the Caring Business seems to mean a willingness to tolerate suicides and suicidal events, homicides, birth defects and endless other problems. It means a willingness to tolerate close to the entire medical literature about on patent drugs being ghostwritten. A willingness to have a set of Guidelines about the sequence in which to take out on-patent meds that are based on “junk” (difficult to find a better word). A willingness to turn a blind eye to the fundamental scientific norm which is you don’t make claims if you don’t have data that others can scrutinise to back up your claim.
I had an email from Papyrus on Monday January 28 after the Secretary of State had been on weekend television.
Dear Dr Healy,
I’m contacting you on behalf of PAPYRUS, the UK charity for the prevention of young suicide. Part of the work we do involves raising awareness of our media guidelines around safe and sensitive discussion of suicide. We came across an article you have published on suicide in March 2013, which includes extensive discussion of suicide method – particularly with regards to hanging. We are concerned that vulnerable people might come across this article via a similar search and that it could introduce a method of suicide to them which they weren’t previously aware of. We understand that this would not have been your intention in writing the blog, and we were wondering if you’d be open to a conversation about taking some of this information down/editing some details out? We’d be happy to discuss this more, either by email or telephone if you prefer, and can provide more detail over the parts we feel would be unsafe for a vulnerable person.
Yours sincerely, Chris Prendergast, Marketing and Communications Officer, PAPYRUS
This email seems to refer to a post Left Hanging about suicides in Bridgend in Wales. It doesn’t contain any imagery. There are many other posts that contain suicide imagery – one of which The Spectre of Dissent contains a compelling image – that disturbed many from JFK 50 years ago to Facebook who blocked the circulation of this post. Facebook not Papyrus. In the light of this, I took care not to include an image of Jan Palach in flames in the last post here Rest in Dissent.
I emailed Mr Prendergast back on Tuesday January 28, when I had calmed down.
I’m not sure what word to apply to your email – bizarre, suspicious, or laughable.
The issue of media reporting of suicides has concerned me for decades and I appreciate Papyrus more recently have been doing work in this area but in my opinion the way you are going about it risks doing more harm than good especially when you get to the point of sending emails about this post you have targeted.
I know Papyrus are aware of the suicide risk antidepressants pose. This is a much greater risk that anything that appears in the media – whether new or old media – but you have done nothing to warn people of these risks. Whatever about the new and old media romanticising suicides and doing harm in the process, the media as they currently operate are doing greater harm by totally ignoring the risks of treatment, which they will continue to do while organisations like Papyrus opt to stay silent rather than press for change or give them the impression that the key thing is not to talk about suicide rather than face up to what is happening.
If Papyrus is open to a conversation about spreading the word about the risks that some of the most commonly used drugs pose, I’d be happy to discuss this more, either by email or telephone if you prefer, and can provide more detail over the points I think you could make and the organisations I think you should be approaching.
In the meantime, I will be discussing the issues in a post this week, including your email and my response.
There is an organisation – the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – that almost vampire like preys on parents and partners and children who have been bereaved by suicide. They sell a message that if only the disease had been recognised earlier and treatment instituted earlier this death would not have happened.
A large proportion of those they recruited to their “Cult” (hard to find a better word) are people whose children or partners or parents have been taking an antidepressant or other drug. See How Pharma Captures Bereaved Mothers.
AFSP gets support from Pharma. Papyrus claims not to. For pharma the very best groups are those that get no obvious support – like NICE.
Under cover of keeping to ethical codes, organisations like the Samaritans block discussion about the suicide risk of antidepressants or related drugs. Anyone working for organisations like the Samaritans who suggests to someone their medication may be making them suicidal is likely to be fired without comeback. Judgement calls like this supposedly have to be left to doctors – whose minds like those of the BBC and Guardian are close to completely colonised (hard to find the right word).
MR looks like a beautiful young woman. But what’s happening now looks terribly contrived. To whose end?