As someone who takes the SSRI Citalopram for anxiety and mild depression (and whose family has a history of mental health problems including manic depression and bipolar) I was absolutely furious after watching BBC Panorama’s ‘A Prescription for Murder’. The program focused on the case of murderer James Holmes who killed multiple people in a theatre in Colorado in July 2012, and attempted to link the murders to SSRI’s.
The program asked the question “Is it possible that a pill prescribed by your doctor can turn you into a killer?” which had already sowed the seed for paranoia over a medicine which has helped transform the lives on millions of mental health patients. It then attempted to make a spurious link between Holmes being prescribed the SSRI sertraline and carrying out the premeditated murders of 24 people (along with being charged for 140 counts of attempted murder).
What is an SSRI?
SSRI stands for Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors; a form of medicine used to treat major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders. It’s not exactly known how they work, but it is known that SSRI’s increase levels of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is popularly thought to be a contributor to feelings of well-being and happiness.
Why ‘A Prescription for Murder’ was a Grossly Irresponsible program
During the program, we learned about some of James Holmes’s background. We learned how he had been a shy individual at school with some problems with socialising. We also learned that Holmes had suffered from some paranoid thoughts as a child (yet received no psychiatric help).
However, we weren’t told that Holmes attempted to commit suicide at 11 years of age. We also weren’t given any in-depth information into how his parents treated him as a child or told about the apparently strong religious beliefs of him and his parents (they followed a form of Protestant Christianity called Lutheranism) and the program may little attempt to delve into the fact that Holmes has been thinking about killing people for over a decade.
We were also introduced to expert witness Professor David Healy, professor of psychiatry at Bangor University, a man who is well documented as being anti the pharmaceutical industry. He told the program: “I believe, if he hadn’t taken the sertraline, he wouldn’t have murdered anyone” yet the program provided no evidence to support his claim or explain how he had come to this opinion.
The program makers of A Prescription for Murder were clearly cherry-picking information as it began to build to the finale; an apparent timeline linking Holmes’ being prescribed sertraline, consequent withdrawal, and the theatre murders. The program makers failed to make it clear that Holmes was clearly a ticking time bomb. They also failed to acknowledge that Holmes was a troubled man who was very likely to commit such an offence regardless of an SSRI. It seemed something worthy of a Daily Mail journalist.
A Prescription for Murder was cherry-picking information as it began to build to the finale; an apparent timeline linking Holmes’ being prescribed sertraline, consequent withdrawal, and the theatre murders.
The program was based on nothing but assumptions and while it did make a disclaimer that people already taking SSRI’s should continue, there’s no doubt that the program will make people already suffering from anxiety even more anxious.
SSRI’s help millions of people have a relatively ‘normal’ life. They helped me. They’ve helped members of my family. And while all SSRI’s have some side affects those side affects as minimal and often worth coping with to feel better.
To try and link a handful of murders to SSRI’s in such a factitious way – when so many millions of people take them around the World with little problem – is morally inept and down right irresponsible.