Archive | November, 2013

Starting a family when you have a mental health diagnosis: unfit to be a mother?

30 Nov
Photo by Bicycle Bill

Photo by Bicycle Bill

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Scroll down to the web links section for links to all the coverage & commentary on the Essex forced caesarean & adoption story

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On starting a family when you’re managing a mental health problem: reality and scare stories

Earlier today, a story about a mother with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder broke which was so utterly grotesque that it has caused a storm of protest on twitter and elsewhere. Questions are to be asked in the House of Commons. Although so far we only have a story reported in the Telegraph newspaper (based on incomplete information), there appear to be 2 main aspects. These fall into familiar media narratives:

  1. “Evil social workers steal our children.” And, in this instance, rip a baby from it’s mother’s womb in an enforced caesarean the mother didn’t know about till she came round to find the scar in her abdomen. As reported in the Telegraph, a woman with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, visiting the UK for two weeks from Italy, was sectioned and taken to a psychiatric hospital. Without informing her, social workers went to court and a judge made an order that a caesarean section could be performed on the woman and the baby taken away. Without warning, the woman was forcibly sedated and, when she woke up, a caesarean section had been performed on  her and her baby removed. She has never seen the baby.
  2. “Women with mental health problems are unfit mothers.” The Telegraph reports that, subsequently, the mother went to court to seek the return of her baby. The judge decided against returning her baby because – despite the fact she was currently well – he said her lifetime risk of relapse meant she was an unfit mother.

There are other troubling aspects to the news story too, but these are the two that relate to mental ill-health. I comment below on these aspects. In summary:

  1. We don’t yet know all the facts around the caesarean section in 2012. It seems so grotesquely barbaric and traumatising that there must be more to it. A c-section is a medical matter, not one for social services. Other seemingly plausible explanations have been put forward and what’s been reported doesn’t ring true. Court of Protection cases are not routinely reported, so we may never see the judgment in this case and the local authority involved may be unable to comment. The main source of information for media coverage is the original Telegraph report, which is based on information provided by only one source (the mother’s solicitor). As a comparison, the Telegraph report refers to a “panic attack”, whereas other commentary refers to a psychotic episode. And the Telegraph story is  written by a journalist who has been criticised for writing misleading court reports in pursuit of his cause. He is a journalist with an agenda. At best we can say for certain that the information we have is incomplete.
  2. As written, it appears that the fact that the woman had a diagnosis of bipolar disorder was the judge’s justification for refusing to return the child to its mother.  This is appalling. This – and the real problems women managing mental health problems face in accessing the support they need – are the real issues for debate.

This scare story contrasts sharply with the reality of women’s experiences of managing a mental health problem and wishing to start a family (for instance this by Erica Camus, 33, diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and contemplating whether she can become a mother; or these comments by Seaneen Molloy, in her twenties, diagnosed with bipolar disorder and also wishing to become a mother).

Many women’s mental health problems will start during child bearing years – so there are a lot of us affected. Women and couples make decisions every day about sex, contraception, psychiatric medication and abortion. With so many of us living this reality daily, the real conversations should be about the following issues:

Let’s hope that the furore generated by this seemingly sensationalised scare story provides a window of opportunity to discuss these real issues women face daily. And let’s hope that women who are wrestling with these very issues now will not decide to have a termination, or to not have children, or to not seek help with mental health concerns as a result of such scare stories.

Allesandra Pacchieri (Daily Mail, 4th December 2013)

Allesandra Pacchieri with her youngest daughter, Baby P (Daily Mail, 4th December 2013)

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Here are my thoughts (tweets edited only slightly due to the lateness of the hour) in response to the initial Telegraph story:

The Telegraph reports that a judge ordered – without even telling her – that a mother could be forcibly sedated & her baby delivered by caesarian section then taken. And that a new judge has ruled that a bipolar diagnosis – just the diagnosis – makes a mother unfit to have her child with her.

Can you imagine a mother with Crohn’s disease who experienced a relapse being forcibly sedated and having her baby removed by secret caesarean? Just like bipolar disorder, doctors diagnose Crohn’s as a lifelong relapsing and remitting condition. At times of relapse, a parent with Crohn’s may be unable to take care of their child. Would anyone say that a mother with Crohn’s was, by virtue of that diagnosis alone, unfit to keep her child just in case she relapsed? No. That judgment seems reserved for those of us with a mental rather than physical health diagnosis.

My impression is that society, doctors and the courts infantilise women who are pregnant. And that certainly happens to people with mental health problems. That’s a double whammy for pregnant women who are managing mental health problems if their case comes before a court.

One question that arises in reading the Telegraph story is where was the perinatal psychiatric service? The point of perinatal psychiatric services is to support mothers through pregnancy and delivery. Since pregnancy is linked to bipolar relapse, it’s all the more important for women to get proper perinatal psychiatric care. That doesn’t seem to have been the case with this mother, though there is a perinatal psychiatric service in Essex.

However, the scary message from these two legal cases, as reported, seems to be this: if you have a bipolar diagnosis, you shouldn’t tell anyone that you’re pregnant because, if you do, you could lose your baby. That you should steer clear of mental health services at all costs.

Wouldn’t a better message be that, if you have a bipolar diagnosis and you want to become pregnant, you should get in contact with a perinatal mental health service so you can plan the pregnancy? Wouldn’t a better message be that, if you’re already pregnant, you should make contact with a perinatal mental health service so they can support you during and after your pregnancy? Wouldn’t a better message be that, if a woman gets a bipolar diagnosis – or any other mental health diagnosis – she is still a full human being. She is not merely a womb. She is not merely a piece of meat to be sedated and sliced open without her knowledge. She is not merely a risk to children. She is a full human being.

At the moment, we know only a partial view of what has happened. The report is based on instructions the mother gave her solicitor. We don’t know why the caesarean was performed. There must have been some medical reason. We are told that the mother wasn’t warned about the planned caesarean and that the child was taken away without the mother seeing it. We are told that the child hasn’t been returned to the mother for the apparent reason of the mother’s bipolar diagnosis and therefore possibility of relapse.

Let’s hope this is just some really, really badly reported media story that’s actually a bit dull. That would be better than the alternative. It will be interesting to see what comes of this story when it’s reported fully. I wonder if either journalist has relevant expertise. I wonder if either has form for whipping up a storm of controversy for a story that turns out to be far more straightforward.

But basically, if you’re a woman with a bipolar diagnosis, you’re an unfit mother. What a sweeping generalisation that infantilises women & reduces us to no more than our diagnoses.

I can guarantee that, when this story is picked up more widely tomorrow, there will be people who will defend the court’s decisions purely on the basis that the woman had mental health problems. Some – who see a diagnosis, who see risk, rather than a person – will see mental health as a trump card, a byword for dangerousness and unpredictability.

Does a bipolar diagnosis make a mother unfit? No, not in and of itself. No more than would a diagnosis of another relapsing and remitting condition like Crohn’s disease. Yes, the mother might relapse. Maybe relapse is not a possibility but a certainty, so the only question is when the next relapse will happen, not if it will.  That’s equally true of Crohn’s disease.

If a mother has a bipolar diagnosis, that’s an argument for supporting the family, not removing her children. Supporting the family is a far cheaper option than taking children into care of putting them up for adoption. Both are astronomically expensive options financially. If a mother has a bipolar diagnosis, that’s an argument for supporting the family, not removing the children. That’s the humane and compassionate response.

Let’s hope this case receives such an outcry that women with a bipolar disorder will be viewed more realistically. Not infantilised.

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[15th April 2014] The final chapter for mother and child; and the Guardian

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Related web links:

The following topics are covered:

  • Statements from the parties involved – including court judgments (including the judges’ reasons), Essex County Council, the mother’s solicitor & MP, and the hospital where she was treated
  • Other court cases related to pregnancies
  • Mainstream media coverage
  • Commentary and blogs – Birthrights charity, British Association of Social Workers, blogging barristers & others
  • Other relevant material – Eg research, perinatal mental health, Court of Protection, twitter conversations

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Statements from the parties involved:

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Other court cases relating to pregnancies:

Case 1 (1998): Forced caesarean was unlawful, despite High Court judge’s ruling

Case 2 (May 2013): Court upheld autonomy of woman with bipolar diagnosis who had changed her mind and wanted abortion

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Mainstream media coverage:

Saturday 30th November:
  • ‘Operate on this mother so that we can take her baby’ – “A mother was given a caesarean section while unconscious – then social services put her baby into care” – Telegraph newspaper, by Christopher Booker – the original story
  • Woman has child taken from her womb by social services“Essex social services have obtained a court order against a woman that allowed her to be forcibly sedated and for her child to be taken from her womb by caesarean section”Telegraph newspaper, by Colin Freeman – follow up a few  hours later
Criticism of Christopher Booker:

Christopher Booker is the journalist who wrote the original Telegraph piece.

  • Must journalists attend court hearings to report accurately?I posted last week on a judgment given by His Honour Judge Bellamy in a family court case involving a mother’s abuse of her baby The judge took the unusual step of criticising media reporting of the case. He said the Telegraph’s Christopher Booker’s reporting was “unbalanced, inaccurate and just plain wrong”. UK Human Rights blog (May 2011)
  • The superhuman cock-ups of Christopher Booker – “The journalist makes so many errors that you would be forgiven for thinking he did it deliberately to waste everyone’s time” – Guardian newspaper (October 2011)
Sunday 1st November
Monday 2nd December
Tuesday 3rd December:
Wednesday 4th December:
Thursday 5th December:
Friday 6th December
Saturday 7th December:
  • Judge must unravel saga of baby snatched from womb – “In the shocking case of an Italian mother whose child was removed by caesarean, the head of Britain’s family courts will be looking closely at social workers’ actions.”Telegraph newspaper, Christopher Booker. He’s back.
  • Father of caesarean scandal woman: Why I DON’T believe she should keep the baby “Alessandra Pacchieri’s baby was taken into care from forced caesarean birth. Controversial decision was approved by secretive Court of Protection. Father Marino has backed the court’s decision to put child up for adoption. Says daughter is a ‘threat’ to the baby because she suffers ‘manic delusions’.” – Daily Mail
Sunday 8th December:

Saturday 14th December:

 

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Commentary & blogs:

Sunday 1st December:
Monday 2nd December:
Tuesday 3rd December:
Wednesday 4th December:
Thursday 5th December:
  • The Court of Protection and the new Family Court: can publishing judgments prevent moral panics?Cardiff Law School, by Julie Doughty and Lucy Series
  • Comment: Forced C-sections and stolen babies“The Alessandra Pacchieri case looks like the ‘stuff of nightmares’, but the problems it highlights are real.” By Jennie Bristow for BPAS (British Pregnancy Advisory Service)
  • One flew over the Hemmings nestMinistry of Truth blog (twitter @Unity_MoT)
  • Views on the forced cesarean judgmentBirthrights (“Birthrights is the UK’s only organisation dedicated to improving women’s experience of pregnancy and childbirth by promoting respect for human rights”) by barrister Elizabeth Prochaska ‏(twitter @eprochaska) – “All in all, a depressing case for anyone concerned with modern maternity care and the rights of people with mental illness. The comment by Lucy Series on twitter best sums up my reaction: “If you were trying to convince somebody the Mental Capacity Act was progressive, empowering, person-centred, the caesarean judgment would not help you.””
Saturday 7th December:
Sunday 8th December:
Monday 9th December:

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Other relevant material:

The Court of Protection:
  • Revealed: How UK justice is dispensed out of hours down the phone line“The Court of Protection is facing fresh questions about transparency, as The Independent reveals that its judges are making life-or-death decisions over the phone, with incomplete evidence, in proceedings that are not always recorded.” – Independent newspaper (June 2013)
Perinatal mental health:
Research:
  • McPin Foundation – Recruiting women participants for a study on pregnancy and anti-psychotic medication“Have you used psychotropic medication and had a child in the last three years? If so, we would like to speak to you. When women with a severe mental illness want to start a family, or find that they are pregnant, they may have to make decisions about whether to keep using medication, change it or stop it altogether. This can be a difficult decision. We want to find out more about how women decide what they want to do and what could have helped them to make that decision.”
Twitter conversations:

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Waiting for therapy: two and a half years on

27 Nov
The Waiting Room restaurant

The Waiting Room restaurant

Comments are welcome (below) or tweet me @Sectioned_

Update small.

  • See below for full links to the We need to talk coalition report & coverage launched on Thursday 28th
  • Conversations with Prof Keith Laws about selective quoting of this post (20 April 2014)

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Reflections on trying to access NHS talking therapies

Disgraceful. Ridiculous. Not acceptable. Outrageous. Those are some of the words people used today to describe my long wait for NHS talking therapy. The most-used description was disgraceful. After two and a half years of waiting, I’m inclined to agree.

If NHS talking therapy was a boyfriend, my girlfriends would be telling me to stop wasting my time. It’s embarrassing how long I’ve waited. The promise of help is dangled, dangled, tantalisingly, just out of reach. And, in the meantime, I’m told to keep taking the drugs. It feels like an abusive relationship.

Waiting so long means the prospect of help has become like a dream of a knight in shining armour riding over the crest of a hill to rescue me. I sort of know that talking therapy can’t save me, but still I can’t quite help but hope. After so long, what else is there but hope? I want more for my life than to be stable on welfare benefits and drugs. I’m hungry for life. I’m ambitious to get back to life. I want to start living a full life once more.

It’s hard to know how much longer to keep hanging on. Wait, wait, waiting. Wait, wait, waiting for something undefined with someone unknown. Keep taking the drugs and see you in February, the psychiatrist said at our last appointment. It’s hard to know what to do in the meantime, when I struggle to function in daily life and struggle to manage troubling symptoms.

It’s exciting when someone talks of a vision of what modern mental health care could be. And scary to hear of the predicted future if those changes don’t take place – especially if some of that is apparent at the moment.

Earlier today, I read an interview with the incoming president of the World Psychiatric Association Dinesh Bhugra. Dr Bhugra called for a radical rethink of services provided for people with mental health problems, as well as changing the focus of approaches to psychological illness and the future of psychiatry. He made some interesting suggestions. Dr Bhugra also made some nightmarish predictions about the way provision for people with mental health problems was heading, some of which are already taking shape: fragmentation of services, selling off services for those with mild to moderate mental health problems, and leaving those with more severe or chronic problems languishing without proper help.

This prompted me to put into words some of my frustrations about my difficulties in accessing help and support beyond drugs and welfare benefits.

Where I live, changes have already been brought in that favour those with mild to moderate conditions, while I’m left to languish. Primary care psychology services introduced by IAPT will only treat those with mild to moderate conditions, and exclude people like me. If you have a mild to moderate condition, in my area you can refer yourself to primary care psychology & will be seen within weeks. If you fall outside that remit, you have to be referred to secondary care psychology. I’ve been waiting two and a half years for a first appointment.

If you knew how much money it costs to keep me parked on drugs and welfare benefits, you’d be calling for me to get treatment and support too. I figure that, with treatment and support, I could have been back at work within months. That’s the irony of being parked on drugs and benefits. I figure that, if I’d been treated properly – rather than being brutalised as an inpatient – I might have been back to work even sooner. It seems like someone somewhere has done a calculation that people like me aren’t worth helping. Just write us off instead, I guess. We’re no bother. And we’re too much trouble to help.

An interesting thing about this long wait for treatment is that I still don’t know what it is I’m waiting for: what sort of help will be offered. When my GP wangled some CBT sessions last year, my psychiatrist said I should ask for help with three areas. Yet, when I finally met with the therapist, she told me I had to pick one. So when I finally get to see someone from secondary care psychology – if I ever do – what sort of therapy will be offered? I don’t know. What will they be able to help me with? I don’t know. I’ve little experience of how psychologists work. Will they say “three things? Pick one”?

These are the problems I have experienced with accessing NHS talking therapy:

  1. Long waiting times

    It was over a year and a half after I was discharged from hospital before I started CBT with primary care psychology services. Two and a half years post-discharge, I have still heard nothing from secondary care psychology services. In what other area of health care would it merit no more than a resigned shrug of the shoulders when you hear that someone has waited for two and a half years – and counting – for a first appointment?

  2. Short treatment duration 

    In my area, sessions with the primary care psychology service are capped at 8. Frustratingly, when I was first referred, the cap was 20 sessions but, by the time treatment finally started, it had been slashed to 8. 20 sessions could have made significant inroads to the problem I received CBT for (PTSD). 8 sessions just picked the scab and poked a stick around in the wound. 8 sessions were barely enough to establish the trust and rapport needed to open up about painful experiences. In what other area of healthcare would you be discharged whilst making progress and told that’s your lot? “I’m sorry madam, although  your cancer isn’t cured, you’ve had the maximum number of chemotherapy sessions we fund so you’re being discharged.”

  3. No choice of therapy or therapist

    What you get is what you’re given. And make sure you’re grateful for it. I was referred for CBT with primary care psychology because that is all they offered. My experience of CBT is that it’s about as sophisticated as a quiz in a woman’s magazine, and about as helpful, but that’s all there was on offer. I don’t even know what therapy I’m on the waiting list to receive from secondary care psychology. In what other area of healthcare would you wait years for some unspecified therapy with an unspecified person? In what other area of healthcare would you get absolutely no choice of treatment or who you see?

  4. Exclusion from primary care psychology services

The clinical psychologist who assessed me at primary care psychology services told me that the IAPT programme excluded people with my diagnosis. Full stop. No matter what the problem is, no matter how amenable it might be to the sort of short-duration therapy they offer, my primary diagnosis means they won’t see me. My GP disagrees and says my diagnosis isn’t a barrier to receiving help. Primary care psychology maintains that they only saw me in the end as a special concession to my GP. I don’t know what will  happen in future but the message from primary care psychology seems pretty clear: they don’t want me.

5. Being passed between different services

The disagreement between my GP and primary care psychology, the seeming inability of the community mental health team to provide me with talking therapy (despite having a team of psychologists on staff) and the apparent mythical status of secondary care psychology services means I’ve been passed around like an unwanted parcel with my GP as piggy in the middle.  Each service says the other will provide talking therapy to me. Each has referred me on to the other. What has this meant?  This reverse turf war – or a game of pass the donkey – caused by the fragmentation of NHS mental health services has left me in no man’s land without treatment. Each service shakes its head at the delay – and says another service is responsible. Another service would be more appropriate. Another service.

You know when you wait at a crossing for the lights to change? In the end, the wait is so long that you dash across anyway. Then, when the lights finally go red, no one crosses. The traffic sits there at the lights, waiting for the lights to change. By the time therapy finally – finally – arrives (assuming it eventually does), maybe the symptoms will have subsided. Maybe I will have figured out DIY ways to function in life. Maybe, after years of waiting without help, after years of languishing and managing troubling symptoms as best I can, I won’t need it any longer. Maybe I’ll end up sitting in the therapist’s room, wondering what to talk about, not wanting to let the opportunity go by after such a long wait.

How much longer should I wait for therapy? I’ve waited so long already. Is it time to make a dash into the traffic & hope for the best?  Is pinning my hopes on NHS talking therapies coming through in the end simply silly? It’s felt that way for a long, long time.

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Related web links

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Tweets and twitter conversations (Storify stories):

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Media coverage:
  • Dinesh Bhugra: Psychiatry needs a broader focus“The first gay president of the World Psychiatric Association wants a radical rethink of mental illness and for the profession to apologise for the harm it has inflicted on gay people and women”Guardian newspaper (Wednesday 27th November)

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Update smallUPDATE: We need to talk coalition launched their new campaign for access to NHS talking therapies on Thursday 28th. Full links below.

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Reports:
  • We still need to talk – A report on access to talking therapies – We Need To Talk Coalition (Thursday 28th November) (Also on the Rethink Mental Illness website)
  • We need to talk – Getting the right therapy at the right time – Report of the We Need To Talk Coalition“The We need to talk coalition is a group of mental health charities, professional organisations, Royal Colleges and service providers that believe in the effectiveness of psychological therapy. Together, we are calling for the maintenance and development of these treatments on the NHS. We want the NHS in England to offer a full range of evidence-based psychological therapies to all who need them within 28 days of requesting a referral” (October 2010)

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Mental health organisations:

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Media coverage:

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So long, farewell: the Asylum “scary mental patient” horror maze is no more

12 Nov

So long farewell Sound of MusicUpdate small

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See the little yellow”update”  tags below for latest on the story that keeps on giving – you couldn’t make it up!

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The Asylum – Thorpe Park’s “scary mental patient” live action horror maze – is no more. It closed at the end of the 2013 Halloween season and will not reopen. Thorpe Park has – at long last – agreed to change the name.

After so many weeks of campaigning, how has this agreement been achieved? Appeals to Thorpe Park’s humanity and kindness seem to have fallen on deaf ears: all we met with brush offs and no promise of action. What made the difference? In the end, Thorpe Park’s agreement to change the Asylum’s name came only after Surrey police investigated them for hate crimes.

That’s right, the police. Thorpe Park did not agree to make any changes to the Asylum as a result of:

None of these, it seems, counted as (to quote Thorpe Park) “serious complaints”. It was only when psychiatrist Dr Nuwan Dissanayaka reported Thorpe Park to Surrey police for hate crimes on 25th October, and the police started to investigate, that (a full two weeks later, just after the Asylum had closed for the 2013 season) Thorpe Park apologised – via the police – and agreed – via the police – to change the name. In the words of Surrey police in their letter to Dr Dissanayaka of 5th November (pictured below right):

“… due to concerns of yourself and others, Thorpe Park have agreed to change the name of this particular maze for 2014 Fright Nights. In addition, the management have given their apologies for any distress the maze may have caused to any individual or group.”

Surrey police Thorpe Park letter

When concerns were raised with Asda about its “mental patient” fancy dress costume, Asda promptly withdrew them from sale. Asda also paid the profit it would have made from the sales to mental health charities. Tesco did the same.

In contrast, Thorpe Park kept the Asylum open throughout the Halloween season and only announced the name change after the season ended and only then after having been reported for hate crimes. The agreement to change the name is good news. It is to be welcomed. But it is only a start. Why? For two reasons.

First, the action agreed by Thorpe Park does not go far enough, and the linguistically-guarded (in other words, mealy-mouthed) “apology” appears to reflect a lack of understanding of the seriousness of the issues. For instance, what is the point of changing the name of the horror maze if there are still “scary mental patients” chasing guests around to make them afraid?

That’s why Dr Niall Boyce – editor of the Lancet Psychiatry and author of the joint letter from the Royal College of Psychiatrists et al – is still pressing for the Skype call we’ve been asking for since October. Earlier today, Dr Boyce spoke with Lionsgate, Thorpe Park’s partners in the Asylum horror maze. Thorpe Park didn’t answer the phone. Let’s hope Lionsgate have a better sense of corporate social responsibility than it appears Thorpe Park has.

In the proposed Skype call, we will ask for the actions set out in Appendix II of my open letter to Thorpe Park fans of 21st October, namely:

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Some suggested steps which would cost no (or hardly any) money:

  • Apologise for the harm caused by evoking the “scary mental patient stereotype – no excuses, no hedging, no fudging, and to come right from the top (if it doesn’t sound like an apology, you’re only making it worse)
  • Make the Time to Change mental health pledge, get involved with other anti-stigma actions and encourage staff to do so too
  • Include links to mental health information on its website page, facebook and videos
  • Invite mental health charities to do the following:
    • to hand out leaflets at the park
    • to host an information stall at the park
    • to discuss what further steps would help improve the mental wellbeing of management, staff and customers

Steps that would involve expenditure:

  • Rename the Asylum and change the scare actors’ costumes so they no longer have any connection to the outdated, inaccurate and damaging “scary mental patient” stereotype
  • Donate the profits from this year’s the Asylum to a mental health charity such as Rethink Mental Illness (which started the #AsylumNO and #AsylumOK hashtag campaign), local mental health charity and/or anti-stigma campaign Time to Change
  • Provide training and support (for instance, through mental health charity Mind), including:
    • mental health awareness training for its senior management team, PR team and HR department
    • making mental health support services available to all staff
    • training staff in mental health first aid (in addition to physical first aid) and provide parity of esteem between mental and physical health first aid services to customers and staff throughout the park’s operations

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However, given the actions Thorpe Park  has taken since that, these very reasonable steps may no longer be enough to redeem Thorpe Park’s position.

Secondly, despite the letter from Surrey police saying that Thorpe Park had agreed to change Asylum’s name, this morning Thorpe Park tweeted me as follows:

“To clarify, we have not agreed to change anything, but take all feedback seriously.”

These denials have been repeated. Apart from these tweets, there has been no statement whatsoever from Thorpe Park. It seems that, apart from these tweets, at present  Surrey police are acting as spokesperson for Thorpe Park.

So will Thorpe Park’s “scary mental patient” live action horror maze rise from the dead like a zombie in 2014? Or is it perhaps that someone on the Thorpe Park twitter or PR team hasn’t quite woken up to what’s been happening and the seriousness of the issues. Let’s hope they do soon because, the longer this drags on, the more poorly it reflects on perceptions of Thorpe Park’s business ethics.

And, the longer this drags on, the more material it provides for business and public relations course tutors for case studies on how to get it wrong.

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Related web links:

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Mainstream media coverage:Update small

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Theme park industry coverage:
  • Surrey police confirm contact with Thorpe ParkAirgates Attraction News (Tuesday 12th October) – “Surrey Police have confirmed claims that they spoke to Thorpe Park staff during an investigation into the Asylum maze: yet Thorpe Park deny any contact with the police.”
  • Thorpe Park believed to rename Asylum mazeAirgates Attraction News (Sunday 10th October) – “Following claims that the Asylum maze at Thorpe Park constitutes hate crime , there are now reports the name of the maze is to change. Thorpe Park denies these claims.”

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Tweets collated on Storify:Update small

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Public relations:

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Blogosphere:

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Tweet chats part 2: What to expect and some do’s and don’ts

3 Nov

Tweet tweet Cobalt 123

Last month, I put together a beginner’s guide to tweet chats. Here, I develop that further, sharing some more of the things I’ve learned along the way about tweet chats. The aim is to help those new to tweet chats to join in and get the most from them!

If you’ve ever wanted to take part in a tweet chat, wanted a few tips to help you along, or wanted to send someone else a guide to encourage them to join in, I’m hoping my tweet chat guides will be a good starting point. In part 1, I covered:

  • What is a tweet chat? – tweet chats in a nutshell
  • What’s in it for me? – what can I gain from participating in a tweet chat?
  • How do I follow a tweet chat? – how do I sign up and join in?
  • How do I find tweet chats?

Here in part 2, I cover:

  • Tweet chat do’s and don’ts – some suggestions for getting the most from your tweet chats
  • What can I expect during a tweet chat? – The 8 stages of a (well-run) tweet chat. This might also be helpful if you’re thinking of running your own tweet chat

If you have some personal favourite top tips for tweet chats or have comments on mine, let me know by adding them to the comments below – or tweet me!

[Update: Here’s tweet chats part 3]

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Tweet chat do’s and don’ts:

Here are my suggestions for getting the most from tweet chats.

  • Have fun! … Or at least get something positive from it.
  • Use the hashtag. Use the hashtag. Use the hashtag. Er so, in other words, remember to use the hashtag in every tweet. That way, peeps following the tweet chat in tweetchat.com or equivalent (see part 1) will see your contribution to the conversation. No hashtag, no visibility in the tweet chat. Simples.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask! If you have a “stupid question”, there are bound to be others with the same query too.
  • Encourage and help others. You’ll soon learn that Twitter people love to help others. And, soon enough, you’ll be offering your own advice and examples to newbies too.
  • Debate – don’t argue. Do feel free to disagree and engage in robust debate! On the other hand, don’t turn it into an argument or slanging match.
  • Give people the benefit of the doubt. It’s easy for misunderstandings to arise in 140 characters, especially in a fast moving tweet chat.
  • Take care of yourself. Tweet chats can sometimes be pretty intense and stimulating – a bit of a bear pit – especially the popular ones. Is this what you need right now? Sometimes, it’s a good idea to just lurk – you can always catch up later with the transcript.
  • To swear or not to swear – it’s a contentious issue. Some feel uncomfortable with swearing in tweet chats, finding it aggressive and rude, and will back off from engaging. Some feel strongly that Twitter should be a reservoir of courtesy and will claim the moral high ground if “language” is used: for them, one swear word is enough to invalidate any otherwise valid point you may have made. Forever. So be warned.
  • If you’re a professional, be professional. Take a look at your professional code of conduct (if you have one) for advice on how to conduct yourself on Twitter. Some professional duties apply at all times, even when off duty.
  • Respect the topic. Tweeps have come together to discuss a particular topic, so keep your contribution relevant. Questions and comments are encouraged, but please don’t try to derail the focus of the chat. If it’s a topic you’re unsure of, maybe read up a little in advance so you can get something out of it. If unsure, consider contacting the tweet chat organiser in advance for guidance.

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What can I expect during a tweet chat?

A well-organised tweet chat will typically have the following 8 stages. And, if you’re thinking of organising your own tweet chat, this is how I’d recommend doing so.

  1. Advertising – In advance of the tweet chat, the tweet chat organiser will give notice that the tweet chat will take place. This might be on a tweet chat listing, in a blog post or via social media such as twitter. Some tweet chats are general get togethers at a particular time using a hashtag, whereas others will have a topic set by the organiser. Sometimes the organiser will post links to brief reading material or questions to be discussed.
  2. Advance notice – In advance of the chat (for example, at the same time the week before; at the same time the day before; and then starting from a couple of hours before), the tweet chat organiser will tweet reminders of the time, and hashtag, together with any topic, reading material or questions.
  3. Introduction – At the start of the tweet chat, the organiser will introduce the topic to be discussed, and tweet links to any advance reading or guidelines.
  4. Hello’s – As tweeps join the chat (whether to lurk or participate), some will say hi (and later goodbye). Many will not and will just tweet in when they have something to say! (I’m usually one of those!) Tweet chats generally take a little while to get going, so don’t be afraid to lurk till you catch the vibe.
  5. Questions – To get the tweet chat going (and to give it a boost if it starts to flag), the tweet chat organiser may post questions at the start and along the way. This helps to prompt and guide the discussion. Feel free to respond to these questions at the time or later. But you don’t need to respond to the questions specifically: they are just a guide.
  6. Conclusion – The tweet chat organiser will give an alert when the tweet chat is coming towards the end, so people can make last minute points, then draw it to a close. That’s the end of the official tweet chat – though of course you can keep on tweeting. These tweets may not make it into the official transcript (see below) – but they may be the part of the tweet chat you get most from. This is especially so if you prefer a slower pace, or if you’ve made connections you want to follow up.
  7. Transcript – Some tweet chat organisers will post a transcript of all the tweets made using the hashtag shortly after the event (or the next day), together with a summary and maybe a word cloud. This can be a helpful catch-up, whether or not you participated in the tweet chat.
  8. Follow up – One of the great things about participating in tweet chats is you can find interesting new people to engage with, so you’ll find tweeps following each other and making contact long afterwards.

I hope that’s given you an idea of what to expect from a tweet chat and how you can get the most from taking part. Let me know you top tips for tweet chats!

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Still to come:

  • Tweet chat trouble shooting – some tips for when things go a bit eek!
  • Mental health tweet chats – links to popular ones, how to find others & some extra things to think about

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