Following last night's BBC Panorama episode - 'A Prescription for Murder?' - Dr Sheuli Porkess, ABPI's Head of Medical Affairs and Clinical Research, gives her reaction to the program and its views on SSRI medicines.
The last few years has a seen a real increase in awareness and treatment of mental illness and this is great news for millions of patients and their families who are impacted by these conditions.
The scientists and the companies that the ABPI represent work hard to understand the science behind these diseases and collaborate with the very-best researchers around the world to research and develop pioneering treatments.
But, tackling mental health is a team effort, with a diverse range of players: University academics, mental health charities, patient groups, innovative researchers - including those in the pharmaceutical industry - as well as celebrities and Royals like William and Harry.
Crucially, we're all working towards the same goal; understanding, preventing and treating mental illness.
That's why it's so disheartening when mental health is stigmatised and sensationalised. Last night's BBC Panorama program did just that.
It's estimated that one in four of us will experience a mental health problem this year alone. Mental ill health is the single largest cause of disability in the UK, contributing up to 22.8% of the total, compared to 15.9% for cancer and 16.2% for cardiovascular disease according to the WHO.
Yesterday's Panorama – 'A Prescription for Murder?' – doesn't help us fight these odds.
Whilst the events described were clearly devastating for those affected directly, Panorama was inappropriate and irresponsible in thinking about the impact on their viewers.
Fearmongering about the medicines that thousands of people and their loved ones need to manage mental health issues will cause alarm – or worse - potentially encourage patients to withdraw their treatment against medical advice.
Panorama did include information about seeking medical advice and I would strongly urge anyone affected by the issues to do so. Patients should not stop taking medication without asking their doctor first.
The program focussed on selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (or SSRIs). These medicines are now one of the most studied classes of medicines, because of the serious scrutiny that regulators in particular have placed on their use. They are reviewed on an ongoing basis by regulators here in the UK, in Europe and around the world. SSRIs are licenced medicines and continue to be recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) as a first-choice treatment of depression in adults.
As with all prescription medicines, SSRIs have known side-effects and these are listed in the information about the medicine. If new information becomes available it will be rigorously reviewed by the regulators to assess whether the medicines information needs to be updated.
All of this information is used to help patients and their doctors determine whether a treatment is the right one for individual patients tailored to their specific needs. These discussions happens before prescribing a medicine and will continues during treatment to ensure that the medicine is still right for the patient.
As a doctor who has prescribed medication to patients I understand as well as anyone that it is vital that the risks – and there can be risks with medicines – and benefits are properly explained to every patient so that they can make an informed choice about their treatment options.
Everyone involved in discovering, researching, developing, prescribing and sharing information about medicines has a responsibility to patients.
As the BBC itself points out the number of patients highlighted in the program is a tiny fraction of the millions of patients who successfully use SSRIs. However, the immediate response on social media to the program showed many viewers were worried and upset as a direct result of the program.
So my question is this? How can we go from such a positive move forward with mental health awareness just a few months ago, to such a sensationalised view in this program - trailed with a fanfare across the media? Is this either responsible or in the best interest of patients?
The media of course should continue to shine a light on areas of potential concern – in medicine or any industry – but let's do it responsibly.
The Academy of Medical Sciences recently set out clear recommendations in a report published last month for how to speak about the merits and concerns that exist around medicines.
The recommendations made in 'Enhancing the use of scientific evidence to judge the potential benefits and harms of medicines' should help improve reporting on these sensitive and complex subjects.
As someone who has both a professional and personal interest in this area; as someone who has worked with patients affected by mental health issues and as someone affected by the death of a loved one due to depression, I am pleased to see discussions around mental illness generally moving in the right direction and I hope this will continue.
We need to be open and destigmatise mental illness: we need to have a grown-up conversation about how we tackle this issue. Researchers, clinicians and patients can and must work together to improve treatments available. We mustn't be side-tracked by sensationalism. Because the only way to make progress is by being constructive, and by having a responsible conversation about mental health.