Archive | February, 2014

Patients or prisoners? Late back or escaped?

25 Feb

The Great Escape film poster

Have you ever been an “escaped prisoner”? Or, to be more specific, have you ever been in a mental health hospital and been more than half an hour late back from leave? I’ve done the latter. And, according to last night’s BBC London News lead story, these two are the same thing.

Yesterday, as I was working on the computer, I had the BBC on in the background. My ears pricked up when I heard that a story on a mental health unit would lead the news that night. But not for a good reason. Of course, it was a story about mental health and violent crime. I tuned into the news bulletin on iPlayer later on. And it was worse than I thought.

The story was about patients at the John Howard Centre, a mental health hospital in London. A request under the Freedom of Information Act had revealed that patients had been recorded as being over 30 minutes late back from leave over 200 times in the past 13 years. Patients coming back late to their ward? Not that interesting a story, you’d think.

That is until you replace the words “late back” with “escaped” and “patients” with “prisoners”. BBC journalist Jean MacKenzie had translated that into a report that over two hundred prisoners had escaped.

For extra frisson, MacKenzie delivered her piece to camera outside the high chain link fence surrounding the centre (a medium secure unit), and the story was illustrated with the unsmiling photograph of one such “escaped prisoner”, who had been convicted of murder. The message to the public? Behind these high security fences is a seething mass of unpredictable and potentially dangerous prisoners; and two hundred violent, deranged prisoners have escaped and are loose on the streets of London.

Somewhat different to the picture revealed by the Freedom of Information Act request. But far more lively for the evening news audiences, playing, as it did, to stereotypes and prejudices linking mental health and violent crime.

The way this story was reported, I would once have been recorded as an “escaped prisoner”. Who’d have thought it? When I was sectioned, I was once late back from leave. Why? Because I’d been at the funfair with my neighbour and her children (one in a pushchair) having been told by one nurse before we’d left for my two hours leave that I had half an hour’s leeway so long as I rang to let them know. We spent a wonderful time on the dodgems and other fairground rides and still had tokens left to spend when I noticed the time and realised I’d be back late unless we left immediately. I rang the ward right away, as I’d been told to do. This time, unfortunately, I got through to another nurse – the ward’s enforcer – who said no, I had to be back on time or I’d be reported to the consultant. I looked at my neighbour, she looked at me, we grabbed the children and ran all the way to the hospital. The elder child was dragged, howling with disappointment and hunger; the younger one pushed at high speed in the pushchair. I was delivered back to the ward just after the 30 minutes leeway had expired. Some “escaped prisoner”.

Here are some of the responses of the lovely twitter people:

Clairus (@Hellsbell) tweeted BBC London News to say:

“Why did Jean MacKenzie call mental health patients late back from leave “prisoners” who’d “escaped”?” apology needed!

Doris (@isthismental) did the same, but added more detail:

“Shocking repeated error BBC London News. Patients at John Howard Centre and any mental health hospital are patients not prisoners. If I’m 35 minutes late back from leave from hospital, it is right that this is recorded as AWOL [absent without leave]. It would be neglectful not to. Usually I’m late because my bus was late and [there is] only 1 irregular bus [that] actually goes to the hospital (that screams of stigma). All your report has done is whip up misguided fears and stigma about mental health and given Majorie Wallace a platform. I’ve been late back from hospital leave so I can get a take away. H&S [Health & Safety] rules say hot food can’t be kept so it’s take away or starve. Once I was technically AWOL from a ward, but on site. I ‘refused’ to return to the ward until homophobic abuse was sorted.”

Earlier today, I (and several others) received the following response from Antony Dore, Editor, BBC London TV News weekdays:

“You’re right – we shouldn’t have used ‘prisoners’. Have discussed this issue with those involved.”

To which I responded:

“Thank you. Will there be a correction broadcast in the same news bulletins tonight?”

Several others raised the same point, which is that, if a prominent report is incorrect – and the story lead the 6:30pm bulletin and was story 2 of 2 in the 10:30pm bulletin – a correction should be issued with equal prominence. The incorrect impression given must be corrected.

It’s stories like these – presenting mental health problems and mental health units purely in the context of violent crime and escaped prisoners – which help to perpetuate ignorance, prejudice and discrimination against people like me. Stories like these create shame and stigma. Stories like these belong to the past. It seems the John Howard Centre is portrayed in stories like this as almost equivalent to a Broadmoor in the heart of residential London.

I’ll be watching the news tonight to see BBC London News does broadcast a correction.

.Update small

There was no correction on the evening’s news bulletin.

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Related links:

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More coverage of the story:

The BBC is not alone in the way it reported the story:

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Social media, engagement and corporate control: Mental Health Cop

16 Feb

I love hobnobs

[Scroll down for links to media coverage, commentary, background on Insp Brown & a link to his cached blog]

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As I was turning in on Friday night, I glanced at twitter to see this, from legal commentator David Allen Green:

“Sorry to say goodbye to two outstanding police Twitter accounts, @MentalHealthCop and @iofiv (aka Nightjack).”

What a shocking turn of events. On checking the Mental Health Cop blog, that was offline too – locked private. The Mental Health Cop facebook page was also down. What had happened to take this award-winning blogger and prolific tweeter offline so suddenly?

If you’re not familiar with Mental Health Cop, he is West Midlands police inspector Michael Brown. His blog and twitter account, which focus on mental health problems from an operational policing perspective, have won several awards. Inspector Brown is a visiting lecturer at several universities, regularly presents at national conferences and gave expert evidence to the 2013 Adebowale Commission (the Independing Commission on Policing and Mental Health) (see here, here and here). He’s also a husband, father, bass player and rugby coach, and likes Hobnobs (no chocolate) and coffee (not tea). Not someone you’d expect to suddenly plunge into internet anonymity.

And yet, he had. And the explanation came later in the day, in the form of a statement from West Midlands police force: the Mental Health Cop twitter account had been suspending pending an investigation into alleged misuse. (The Birmingham Mail speculated that the twitter account had been suspended because Insp Brown had complained about cutbacks (you can read a cache of his last tweets here* and judge for yourself). Insp Brown’s most recent blog post (cached here*) was about police officers managing stress, where he talked about the pressures officers face, including restructuring and resource squeezes.)

Who would have thought a senior police officer – tasked with (amongst other things) ensuring officers on the ground obey the law – couldn’t be trusted to comply with a social media policy? And yet that was the decision taken by the corporate communications department.

The Mental Health Cop twitter account and blog had started off as personal accounts, produced by Insp Brown in his own time. At some stage, West Midlands police stepped in to give the twitter account its official seal of approval. At what stage did this endorsement turn to condemnation, and why?

I will expand this post when I have a moment later in the day or tomorrow but, for now, here are my tweets posted at the time, which set out some of my thoughts. In addition, below you will find links to all the mainstream media and commentary I have come across, so you can catch up fully. Please feel free to tweet or comment below with further links to be added.

What next?

  • At this stage, Insp Brown remains offline, though he can be contacted through twitter (via @NathanConstable). Many people are tweeting their support for Michael and praising his work.
  • Mary O’Hara of the Guardian is inviting people to tell her what you value about Mental Health Cop, for a piece she is writing over the weekend and filing on Monday.
  • People are invited to contact West Midlands Police Force (@WMpolice), Assistant Chief Constable Garry Forsyth (@GarryForsythWMP) (who took the decision to take Mental Health Cop offline), or the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner Bob Jones to let them know why Mental Health Cop should be back on twitter.
  • Insp Brown will be being put through some form of investigation or internal disciplinary procedure by West Midlands Police Force which his boss Forsyth hopes will be resolved in a “matter of days not weeks”. Let’s hope so.

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* Please note that, as at Monday 17th, Insp Brown’s final tweets (referring to the mental health of police and resourcing) and his 11th February blog post (on the mental health of police) no longer appear on search engine caches.

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Web links thumbnail.Below are links to:

  1. Police statements and social media policies
  2. Some reactions on twitter
  3. Mainstream media stories
  4. Commentary
  5. Information on Insp Brown (including blog cache)

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1. Police:

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2. Some reactions on twitter:

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3. Mainstream media:

Saturday 15th February:

Sunday 16th February:

Monday 17th February:

Tuesday 18th February:

In addition, local radio station BBC WM has been running coverage of the story.

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4. Commentary:

Saturday 15th February:

  • Celtic Knot – “Dear @GarryForsythWMP (cc @NathanConstable) My questions about #MentalHealthCop account suspensions concern its proportionality and its wisdom.” (@celticknot)
  • Mental Health Cop“I expect some sort of ‘due process’ must now ensue. But I repeat: the blogs and tweets of @MentalHealthCop must continue. The resource that he has created is simply invaluable.” – A Just Future Fair For All blog by John Harvey
  • In praise of Mental Health Cop“This morning I woke to the very surprising news that Mental Health Cop (also known as Inspector Michael Brown of the West Midlands Police) has closed down his blog, Twitter and Facebook page. I don’t know the reasons for this, and those who do know seem to be rather tight-lipped about it. I have noticed, however, that several other police tweeters have also closed their accounts.”Not So Big Society blog by Phil Dore
  • What you say may be taken down …“The outpouring of respect for @MentalHealthCop this morning and the crossness many are expressing at the action of his bosses proves two things. One, that he did a very good job on Twitter. Two, that West Midlands Police has just pressed the reset button in many people’s minds in terms of its reputation …”Sound Words blog (@soundwords)

Sunday 16th February:

  • Come back soon Mental Health Cop“I sincerely hope that this matter is resolved quickly and that Michael is able to resume his fantastic work very soon.”Stuart Sorensen‘s blog

Monday 17th February:

Tuesday 18th February:

  • @MentalHealthCop under restraint“Certainly Toronto policing needs MentalHealthCop, and likely, a few other places too. Lets just say the whole world needs MentalHealthCop.”Recovery Network Toronto

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5. Who is Mental Health Cop? Some background:Insp Michael Brown Olympics 2012

By Insp Brown:

By others:

  • Interview with Mind Awards winner @MentalHealthCopThe World of Mentalists blog, by Phil Dore (November 2012)
  • Michael Brown: beyond the call of duty“Observing people with mental health issues in custody encouraged a copper to start an award-winning blog”Guardian newspaper profile by Mary O’Hara (December 2012)
  • Michael Brown, winner of the Mark Hanson Digital Media award – “Michael Brown, winner of the Mark Hanson Digital Media Award at last year’s Mind Media Awards, chats to Carl Burkitt about his blog Mental Health Cop for our webwatch page in the Spring issue of Mind Membership News.”Mind Charity (2012)
  • The ‘mental health cop’““I’ve had more than my fair share of policing and mental health incidents and I continue to get them daily on the frontline of British policing,” writes inspector Michael Brown in MentalHealthCop, his award-winning blog.” – NHS Choices

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Trust, respect and coercion in mental health services

12 Feb

Trust dancers

Trust, respect and coercion: Can people who use mental health services ever really trust staff when coercion is always an option?

Some thoughts of mine on the subject.

Some responses of the lovely twitter people.

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Schizophrenic leaders

9 Feb

Hypocrite

“As long as they’re not two-faced, hypocritical, schizophrenic.”

What would you say if you heard that in a meeting? Would you pipe up there and then to challenge the misuse of a psychiatric diagnosis in that way? Would you seethe and stay quiet, lost for words or not wanting to expose yourself to scrutiny? Would you follow up quietly afterwards? Or let it drop, for the sake of self-care or personal privacy? What’s the best way to educate people about the negative impact of stigmatising stereotypes and the use of terms related to mental illness as insults? What would you do?

Here are some thoughts on the topic of the casual use of the word “schizophrenic” in a derogatory way and how (and whether) to challenge it. First my musings, then the responses and suggestions of the lovely twitter people.

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