Mind Media Awards 2012: a review of the speech radio category
Posted Tuesday 13 November 2012
I’ll start by expressing my gratitude for two things. Firstly, I am extremely grateful to the Mind digital team for giving me opportunity to review this fantastic range of speech radio programmes; I’m a big lover of speech radio, but I’d somehow missed all these wonderful shows.
Secondly, I’m thankful that I’m not in the position of having to choose a winner from such incredible diversity. I've heard everything from drama to phone-ins; from Radio 4 to prison radio; from the power of poetry to suggestions for practical support.
I began with Henry’s Demon’s, a Radio 4 programme broadcast in the Afternoon Drama slot. Adapted from the book of the same name, this illuminating drama uses the words of Henry Cockburn and his parents Janet and Patrick, to explore life with schizophrenia. Henry is in his first term away at university when his parents are alerted to a possible problem by a phone call from the police. Henry has been taken to hospital after first climbing a viaduct and then swimming fully clothed in the Newhaven Estuary, apparently unaware of the dangers. After being diagnosed with schizophrenia, Henry goes on to spend most of the next five years in hospital, frequently trying to escape, and often refusing to take prescribed medication. There is a continual tension between how Henry views his symptoms (as “spiritual enlightenment”, or communication from nature) and his doctors’ and parents’ view that his experiences are psychosis, and therefore a sign of illness. There is no one “truth”, and as Patrick puts it, “I was coming to realise that the distinction between sane and insane is much more ambivalent than I had realised.” As a service user since adolescence, I try not to think too much about the impact of my own illness on my family, but I found it both enlightening and painful to hear Janet and Patrick’s experience of watching their young son’s life interrupted by schizophrenia.
The second programme aired on commercial station LBC.The presenter Iain Dale is clear that he has no personal experience of mental distress, but despite this he appears passionate about covering mental health issues and challenging stigma and discrimination. Relevant clips from the show include listener phone-ins and emails, and interviews with Alastair Campbell and Diane Abbott. The clips tease out a range of important issues, including inappropriate acute care conditions (mixed sex wards and young people’s admittance to adult wards); the lack of attention paid to the physical health needs of mental health patients; the inadequacy of crisis care services; the difficulty of coping with a mental health problem at work; and how to support someone with depression. Dale is supportive and compassion throughout and I was impressed by the way he continually encourages callers to help break down stigma by the sharing of their stories.
The inside of prisons will be a mystery to most, but after a career in criminal justice I know just how dismal some of London’s prison’s can be, particularly Victorian buildings such as HMP Wandsworth. I’m also well aware of the shockingly high percentage of prisoners with at least one mental health problem. I was interested, therefore, to listen to a “Radio Wanno” mental health special, created by a prisoner named Mohammed for all his fellow prisoners. The programme points out that it is normal to struggle with the prison experience, but that for those with more serious issues – depression and bipolar are particularly spotlighted - specialist input is likely to be required. The programme suggests several routes to support, such as self-referral to the healthcare team, asking to speak to a Samaritans trained Listener, or calling the Samaritans via prison payphones. The programme does a great job of recognising that healthcare resources are limited, but that there are steps that anyone in custody can take, from getting more exercise to accessing self-help books in the prison library. I particularly liked Mohammed’s calm reiteration that any prisoner can seek help from a Listener, at any hour of the day or night, and the way he used interviews with Stephen Fry and the prison’s psychiatric nurse to normalise seeking help when needed.
Tim Samuels presents BBC Radio 5 Live’s Mens Hour. In August 2011, the programme focused on the work of the charity Combat Stress, which supports veterans experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Shockingly, many of the men the organisation treats receive no other psychiatric or psychological support, despite having severe mental health symptoms which impact on their ability to work, and on their relationships and families. Combat Stress provides mainstream mental health support but also offers arts therapies, and the programme set out to explore the role of poetry in addressing PTSD. Writing poems, he finds, can be a challenge for men who haven’t given poetry a second thought since school, and who feel that big, burly men with shaven heads are just not the right “type.” It was touching to hear servicemen who had felt let down and unsupported by both the Forces and the NHS begin to use poetry to explore the combat experiences which continued to haunt them. There were also compelling insights from the wives of two participants about the impact of PTSD on family life, and the benefits of the writing therapy programme for their husbands. I learned a lot about an area of mental health with which I was less familiar, and was left profoundly glad that Combat Stress is helping to fill the appalling care void that many ex-servicemen and women suffer.
The Radio 4 series Ramblings is presented by Clare Balding. It’s a simple premise; each programme, she undertakes a country walk in the company of somebody interesting or notable. In the nominated episode she spends time walking with Stuart Jessop, who has been walking the perimeter of England with the aim of raising funds and reducing stigma around mental health. With his wife acting as a solo financial and practical support crew, and Poppy the springer spaniel offering company on the way, Stuart walks every day. His daily mood diary shows that despite cold, wind or rain, he has not had a depressive episode since starting his 2,500 mile challenge, and he attributes this to living a simpler life with an abundance of exercise and fresh air. What I liked about this programme was that although considerable time was spent discussing Stuart’s depression and how his wife deals with it, this felt almost incidental to the shared experience of walking. Mental health felt like just what Clare and Stuart happened to be talking about while they took in the views and noted the wildlife. I felt this normalised the topic, and allowed us to see depression as just one part of Stuart; he is someone who suffers from depression, but he is also a brother, a husband, a dog owner, a charity fundraiser, and a walker. And I thoroughly subscribe to Stuart’s philosophy that “when you seen an opportunity to walk on a beach, take it.”
So what’s my favourite? I do have one, but I’ll be keeping it secret until I hear the result at the Media Awards next Monday!
Mind wants to see everyone with a mental health problem treated with respect. So we want to see open, honest and fair portrayals of mental health in the media.
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