LETTER:Mental health propaganda

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From Ms Marjorie Wallace and others

Sir: We are concerned about a fund-raising circular sent out by the mental health charity Mind to its supporters, including people suffering from mental illness and members of their families, which we believe could cause great distress and may encourage sufferers to stop their medication.

After a visit to the family doctor, many of us leave with a prescription. Tablets, medicines and lotions ... [the circular says]. But what if we died from the drugs prescribed? Unthinkable? For most of the population, yes. But for people diagnosed "severely mentally ill", the answer is not clear cut.

Mind paints a desperate picture of psychiatrists and other doctors wrongly prescribing drugs and of their terrible and sometimes lethal side-effects.

People become agitated, they grimace, chew and smack their lips. Some develop a shuffling walk, painful muscle spasms and low blood pressure ... the statistics tell us someone will die this week.

Imagine the effect of such propaganda, used as an emotive fund-raising exercise on worried families with a son or daughter recently diagnosed with schizophrenia being treated with anti-psychotics. Or the impact on a paranoid sufferer who, as a result, is convinced his psychiatrist is killing him.

We have just been told by a mother that her son, John, a manic depressive, is refusing his medication since reading the circular Mind sent him. Three years ago, his brother, who suffered schizophrenia, stopped taking his medication and became so ill that within weeks he killed himself.

We want to make it clear to those taking anti-psychotics that although these drugs (like many others) may have extremely unpleasant side-effects, they can be very effective, giving people a quality of life they might not otherwise have. The drugs are widely used and have a good safety record. There are no statistics of which we are aware that support the claims made by Mind. For a proportion of people, who would otherwise be at high risk of suicide, they are life-saving.

A campaign aimed at frightening these most vulnerable people from seeking help from their doctors, and encouraging them to give up admittedly still imperfect treatment, can only bring further heartbreak and suffering. The way forward is to research the cause or causes of severe mental illness and to find treatments that are more acceptable and efficacious.

Yours etc,

MARJORIE WALLACE, Chief Executive, Sane; Professor ROBERT BLUGLASS, Clinical Director, Reaside Clinic; Dr FIONA CALDICOTT, President, Royal College of Psychiatrists; Professor ANTHONY CLARE, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry; Professor MALCOLM LADER; Professor of Clinical Psychopharmacology; Professor CHRISTOPHER THOMPSON, Registrar, Royal College of Psychiatrists; Dr ANDRE TYLEE, Senior Mental Health Educational Fellow in General Practice; Dr MALCOLM WELLER, Chairman of the North Thames Regional Psychiatric Committee

London, NW1

9 June

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