Inexcusable BBC documentary on homicides

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If one wanted to create a TV programme that fostered terror about how dangerous mentally ill people are, helpful ingredients would be for a film to:

  • Be authored by someone bereaved by homicide committed by someone with a mental illness
  • be loaded with details of the tragedies which build up into the most horrific visual and emotional picture of the danger posed by mentally ill people.
  • Ramp up the horror through repeated inclusion of the specifics of weapons used, the film’s music, photographic techniques and the sheer, raw, agonising trauma of the bereaved families

BBC2 achieved this and so much more in the documentary Who Killed My Dad? Broadcast at 9PM last night. (It’s available on BBC iplayer, but mercifully only for 7 more days,  so if you want to thoroughly depress yourself, click on:

There’s a fundamental tension between portraying the agony of bereaved families, providing factual information about the homicides (and suicides, not covered in the programme) of mentally ill people and the emotional impact of this on people’s views of mental illness. Including on those of us struggling to lead a vaguely normal life despite the devastation our illness creates. The most generous interpretation of the programme and its intention is that it was ‘factual’, appropriately sympathetic to the victims’ families and wasn’t a programme designed to challenge stigma (to put it mildly!!)

But that would be a very simplistic response. The reality is that it used powerful and effective media techniques which have a disproportionate emotional impact on viewers. Because of the prevalence of mental illness, most people have someone close to them who has been severely affected. Yet behavioural psychology research shows that direct experience can be cognitively ‘trumped’ by the many other sources of information we’re exposed to. Especially those with a high emotional content.

If watching the programme is too unappealing, or for some reason you want to read what the film-maker, Julian Hendy, wrote about his father’s tragic murder in (unsurprisingly) the Daily Mail:

I’ve also done a blog for Mind and there are interesting comments following this:

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