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BBC's Suggestion That SSRIs Create Murderers Could Put My Partner's Life in Danger

Editor’s note: If you struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. To find help visit International OCD Foundation’s website.

On Wednesday, July 26, 2017, BBC’s investigative current affairs program “Panorama” — holding the honor of being the world’s longest-running current affairs program — aired an hour-long documentary suggesting that SSRIs could turn patients into murderers.

I cannot begin to cover how wrong and dangerous I found this suggestion.

As a person who cares for someone with harm obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), often treated with SSRIs, BBC is frankly playing with fire when they even slightly suggest that the medication used to make someone more stable could actually turn them into the thing they fear the most. Obviously we should be real about medication side effects, but to state something so sensationalistic is frankly irresponsible.

My partner, who lives with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), struggles with this very fear — that she could be a killer, a pedophile, someone capable of the darkest acts imaginable. She requires the keys to be locked away at night for fear that she could “escape” the house in her sleep and commit unspeakable acts. She cannot be alone during the day, for fear that she could “lose her mind” and do the same while awake. She cannot take her medication outside of the safety of our home, for fear of being drugged or being adversely affected in some unknowable way, caused by her medication to become a different person and lose her strictly held self-control.

Many people living with harm OCD feel they are capable of the worst acts imaginable. So, imagine being told by a broadcaster respected around the world that your fears are more than that. It was my partner who alerted me to the BBC’s reporting, terrified that it was true. I could hear her thoughts before she voiced them, having been by her side, through the horrors of her self-doubt, for three years now. Why would they report it if it wasn’t true? How could she be sure? What if she was the small percentage who was affected in this way?

And that’s just the problem: the BBC might have said this affected “a tiny minority,” but for those with OCD, they are the minority. Each person may feel that they alone could be affected in this way. For all the millions of people successfully treated for harm OCD, who have never committed a crime in their lives, they could be the one the research is wrong about.

The BBC’s reporting didn’t stop there. The documentary, featuring the picture of killer James Holmes who murdered 12 and injured 70 at the midnight premiere of Batman in 2012, named specific medications and their possible murderous side-effects. They named one of these medications, and asked if it could have played a role in his killings. They named other cases where those taking an SSRI committed an act of murder. They did not place doubt on the so-called findings — indeed, they asked, “If enough is known about this rare side effect, and if doctors are unwittingly prescribing what could be a prescription for murder.”

This isn’t investigative reporting — this is scaremongering at its finest, and could very well be responsible for harm coming to those affected. Whether you take medication or not, many people find it instrumental — and in fact essential — to the stabilization of their symptoms and their ability to cope with everyday life. Merely seeing James Holmes’ image, along with the medication that some with OCD take to protect themselves from their intrusive thoughts of harm, is recipe enough for danger. My partner is distraught, sickened by the very association. Other UK institutions such as The Telegraph, likewise known for scaremongering, have gone on to report on the documentary with the headline “Antidepressants linked to murders and murderous thoughts.” They are no shades of gray here.

The damage is far-reaching, and may not be easily contained. OCD Action have issued a statement on their Facebook page, urging those affected by the program to seek help with medical professionals. They go on to say:

SSRI’s (along with CBT with ERP) have been proven to be a really effective treatment for OCD, and are recommended by NICE … Please do not let scaremongering documentaries put you off these treatments, and speak with the person who prescribes your medication if you have any questions or concerns.

I strongly urge anyone affected do the same — do not let reporting such as this one, based barely in fact, to scare you off what could be potentially life-saving treatment. Obviously medication isn’t for everyone, but this shouldn’t be a decision consumers make out of fear. I loathe to link to the documentary and associated scaremongering here, as I don’t want to add to the damage. We must be loud in our response though, and not allow respected institutions to drive mental health treatment and stigma back to the dark ages.

Editor’s note: Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication. This piece was published with permission from the author’s partner.

Follow this journey on the author’s Twitter.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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Thinkstock photo via Jevtic

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