Review of the News and Current Affairs shortlist
Posted Thursday 15 November 2012
I am very pleased to be reviewing the News and Current Affairs Category for the Mind Media Awards 2012. It’s been insightful to listen and watch those shortlisted.
In their Newsbeat section, Radio 1 highlights how the incidence of male eating disorders is on the increase with admissions to hospital rising by 70% over the last 10 years (Department of Health). Newsbeat uses the story of Ben, 20, to illustrate the issues faced by young men today. His anorexia started 6 years ago where he would survive off a bowl of cereal and a salad every day. At 5ft 10” his weight plummeted to 7 stone and he was close to hospital admission and death.
What is shocking is that 1.6 million people have an eating disorder in the UK, 1 in 5 of those are men, although this figure is probably higher in reality as men are often reluctant to seek help. Current fashion trends such as skinny jeans and slim fitting clothing has led to men being increasingly more aware of their appearance. Newsbeat reports how leading GP’s claim anorexia in males is often misdiagnosed as depression and calling for GP’s to be more aware of eating disorders in men rather than focusing on it being a female issue.
There is an online video of Ben accompanying the report. Ben, although in recovery, is still very thin, looking much younger than his age. In the video Ben explains how his heart rate became very low due to his weight loss and how the doctors considered, that had his condition worsened at all, he would have been close to death. You can visibly witness Ben’s emotional response to this, which increases the impact of this report.
BBC Look East: Combat Stress
We often hear of the physical injuries suffered by our service men and women, but hear little of the emotional impact and consequences to their mental health. This report from BBC Look East is the first of two reports shortlisted which focus on the impact of war on the mental health of frontline service men and women, in particular, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Peter Doolan was sent to the frontline of Iraq aged just 17. Within days he was confronted with carnage and chaos and left holding a baby covered in glass and blood, alive but making no sound; its mother killed in a bomb explosion at their home.
If this isn’t sufficiently traumatising, Peter goes on to describe, how in his second tour of Iraq, he was forced to shoot a suspected bomber who failed to stop at a check point. The man he killed was deaf and had severe learning disabilities. The man was incapable of understanding any of the signals given to him and was sent to test defences
On returning home, Peter found himself unable to talk about what he had witnessed and how he felt about what had happened, explaining how he considered talking about it to be a weakness. He was so traumatised from his frontline experiences that he was unable to recall the next ten months of his life. He threw his military medal in a skip, hid under a table and saw his own son as an Iraqi child.
This report highlights the pain and difficulties encountered by service men that have faced such atrocities and the impact on both them and their families on their return to ‘normality’. Peter is doing his best to turn his life around, but even whilst studying for a business degree he is struggling to source employment because of society’s misconception about Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. Peter states that the condition is misunderstood and employers wrongly perceive sufferers as violent.
Combat Stress is a charity working with a high proportion of ex service men and women encouraging them to open up and discuss their experiences, to trust their partners and their families for support with their mental health. 85% of their cases are ex-service men and women; ex-soldiers are considered civilians and become the responsibility of the NHS and not the military. Steve Pettitt from the charity highlights in his interview how PTSD can manifest itself in many different forms. What I found particularly enlightening in this report is how the very nature of war today can influence the manifestation of PTSD. As in Peter’s case, it is not always easy to tell who is an enemy in today’s wars and who is a genuine civilian - not all enemies are dressed in uniforms. A difficulty encountered by those on the front-line every day.
Having worked in the Criminal Justice System, I have heard a number of young men say how desperately they want to join the Army. Having seen this report, I wonder how many of them have given consideration to the long-term impact on their emotional well-being and their mental health.
ITV News:‘The Forgotten Fallen?’ series
The second item shortlisted focusing on the mental health of ex-service men and women is ‘The Forgotten Fallen?’ series; an investigative report from ITV News.
In an emotive report, we hear about Lance Sergeant Dan Collins, whose mother describes him as a ‘casualty of conflict’ after he returned from the Afghan War with the trauma from the battlefield continually haunting him.
She describes how she made him Sunday lunch, which he calmly sat down to eat. As he looked down at his plate, he was transferred back to the battlefield, only to see his roast dinner as burning flesh. His mother, in tears, explains how she tried to console him, but how no words of comfort could ease his pain, whilst he sat and rocked in the corner of her kitchen. Shortly after this incident, Dan Collins was found hanged, unable to take the haunting scenes trapped in his mind any longer.
Dan was receiving counselling whilst he waited for medical discharge, but what this report highlights is the need for Intensive Therapy. The investigation shows that this is available from the Military, but the quality of care varies depending on location and there remain a number of weaknesses that still need tackling. Those who have been discharged from Military Services become the responsibility of Society and sadly, the Military is no longer considered responsible.
Having heard so much about the physical injuries of the brave men and women who fight for our country, I found these two reports poignant and enlightening. Anyone who takes what our Military Service men and women undertake for our country lightly should most certainly watch these reports.
Iain Dale: London’s Biggest Conversation LBC 93.7 (Radio), Work Capability Assessment
I had not previously heard this programme prior to this review, but it has made for an interesting listen in the current climate of austerity. Iain Dale is one of Britain’s leading political commentators and presenter of the LBC show. Here he hosts a discussion on the changes to Incapacity Benefit and the Work Capability Assessments (WCA) needed for the new Employment Support Allowance (ESA).
The discussion focuses on the Government’s introduction of ATOS, a French Company brought in to test the eligibility of the 1.5 million UK people currently claiming Incapacity Benefit. This process has involved individuals taking the Work Capability Test, where an incredible 500,000 have been considered to be wrongly claiming. The appeals process has cost the taxpayer £50 million. The segment focuses on a discussion with the Chief Executive of Mind, Paul Farmer and Chris Grayling, the Employment Minister and the flaws in the assessment system – particularly looking at whether the assessment process adequately considers those suffering with mental health problems.
We hear experiences of real people who have been through the process and learn how their mental health was affected as a result of going through a process, which fails to properly address the reasons they feel they are unable to work.
Iain manages the conversation diligently, providing a balanced debate which is informative and a necessary listen for anyone who is going through the assessment process or who may encounter it in the future.
Channel 4 News: Anti-psychotic drugs for kids
Finally, we come to Channel 4 and their report on the prescribing of anti-psychotic drugs to children as young as 5.
As a mother of two young children, I found this report quite distressing - I watched a young autistic boy, unable to communicate due to his autism, hitting his head against a wall, writhing around on the floor and hitting himself about the head. The report indicates this child has been prescribed anti-psychotic drugs for this behaviour for three years, but with little change to the self-harming behaviour he demonstrates. We then hear how this child was found to be suffering from reflux after his behaviour was analysed by a specialist. His back-arching and kicking-out considered indicative of the pain experienced with reflux. Notably, when treated for reflux, his behaviour improved and the question is raised as to whether there was a need for anti-psychotic drugs.
This report highlights the dramatic increase in prescription rates of anti-psychotic drugs for children. 1500 are reported from GP’s alone in 2010; this is a 50% increase in a ten year period. But what this programme is highlighting most is the ease at which doctors prescribe such drugs, when in reality little is actually known about the long term effects on the developing brain. It informs us how drug companies were unwilling to disclose their research on such to Professor Kendal of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, who is writing new guidelines on the prescription of these drugs and their administration to children. Channel 4 News also spoke to parents, highlighting evidence of children being prescribed these drugs without any monitoring of the physical conditions and resulting side-effects.
For parents of children suffering behavioural issues, a solution is most definitely needed. But this report most definitely makes you think and consider the potential dangers and long-term consequence to the development of our children.
I think you’ll agree, this is going to be a very difficult category to judge and I don’t envy those on the judging panel. Whilst each one would be a very worthy winner, I do know who my favourite is. I’ll have to wait until Monday to see if the judging panel agrees.
Donna is a freelance writer and blogger, who writes about current affairs, social justice and feminism.
Follow her on Twitter: @lexiconlane
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