#mecfs SMC ran second brainstorm in early 2013 to discuss what can be done -
Maudsley Charity (previously South London and Maudsley NHS Trust Charitable Funds) awarded the SMC a grant of £10,000 p.a. for 3 years -
The SMC's work on mental health research has produced more awards than any other area of our work.
The SMC ourselves won the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology’s inaugural Media Award for science in the media for our championing of evidence-based science in the face of received wisdom, public prejudice and special interests, and our efforts to ensure that the most critical issues currently affecting science and public health are debated on the basis of accurate and objective scientific information.
Tom Feilden, science correspondent for BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, won the UK Press Gazette's first ever specialist science writing award for breaking the story the SMC gave him about the harassment and intimidation of researchers working on CFS/ME.
The SMC had nominated him for the award.
Tom Feilden was shortlisted for a Mind Media Award for his package that came directly from an SMC briefing on the role of mental health experts in Broadmoor Hospital.
The SMC jointly nominated Simon Wessely for the inaugural Sense About Science John Maddox Prize for Standing up for Science for his courage and bravery in speaking out on CFS in the face on intimidation, which Simon won.
Tom Feilden, science correspondent, BBC Radio 4 Today programme said:
“Despite being such an important part of the health care agenda, mental health is often overlooked by the mainstream media. Claire Bithell's tireless efforts behind the scenes at the SMC have helped us address that problem on the Today programme. Recent examples include features on self harm, schizophrenia, and exposing the abuse and intimidation suffered by researchers working on chronic fatigue syndrome. We certainly wouldn't be up for a Mind Media Award [for our series "Inside Broadmoor"] without her.”
Supporting experts targeted by extremists
We have also been involved in supporting experts who have found themselves being targeted by individuals or groups who do not like their research.
This has been particularly important in the case of psychiatrists and psychologists working on chronic fatigue syndrome/ME.
These researchers have found themselves in the firing line from a small group of extremists who are opposed to psychiatrists or psychologists doing research on chronic fatigue syndrome/ME.
The SMC ran a press briefing on the first findings from the PACE trial, and supported the researchers involved throughout this process, for example, by organising media training in collaboration with the MRC.
When we became aware of the level of intimidation researchers were experiencing we brought together key parties for a brainstorm to discuss what could be done to aid researchers.
At this event it was agreed that these harassed experts should speak out publically about the harassment they were experiencing.
As a result the BBC Radio 4 Today programme ran an exposé on the piece (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14326514) and a number of outlets followed the story including the Observer (http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/aug/21/chronic-fatigue-syndrome-myalgic-encephalomyelitis) and the Daily Mail (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2020241/Scientists-investigating-ME-death-threats-investigating-psychological-causes.html).
For some researchers this media work has dramatically reduced the harassment they are experiencing.
For others, however, things have not improved.
So the SMC ran a second brainstorm in early 2013 to discuss what can be done.
It was agreed that more must be invested in putting the case for research of chronic fatigue syndrome/ME explaining the burden and seriousness of the disease both to the media and the public.
The SMC will look for opportunities to do media work in this area.
One of the consultation findings was that psychiatry is particularly badly portrayed in the news media so the SMC has concentrated a lot of effort on getting to know academic psychiatrists.
This has been a great success, however we do not have as many academic psychologists on our database and do not have as good contact with the research community in this area.
We could do more to engage with this subject area.
Action point: the SMC makes contact with more academic psychologists and ensures they are well represented on the SMC database.
Seizing the agenda
As well as breaking stories of new research and responding to mental health in the news, the SMC has also helped to set the agenda and frame the narrative of reporting on a number of big issues.
Previous to our background press briefing on DSM 5 few of the UK based science journalists knew about the unease amongst UK scientists.
The background press briefing generated vast media coverage and informed the UK’s most important health and science reporters of the issues of concern.
The SMC followed this up with several Roundups including comments from large numbers of the UK’s top mental health researchers, all generating continued media coverage.
This kind of agenda setting was also on display in our work around the harassment and intimidation of researchers working on chronic fatigue syndrome/ME.
The meeting organised by the SMC on this was the first of its kind and brought the beleaguered researchers together with representatives of funding agencies, the police, the GMC etc.
One of the results of that meeting was the decision of a number of academics to go public on their situation with the support of the SMC and their respective press officers .
The SMC engineered the coverage through working with the Today programme on an exclusive – a story that was planned over many weeks.
The result was huge with Today making the very best of their exclusive with several different packages on the morning of release.
As expected the follow up was huge with almost every newspaper, Sunday paper and influential magazine covering the subject in some way.
The results of that coverage have been mixed but include the following:
Many in the scientific community became aware of the situation having previously been unaware
For some researchers the media coverage marked the end of their harassment.
For others it has continued
Across the board the researchers who were interviewed received a huge amount of supportive emails from fellow scientists and from chronic fatigue syndrome/ME patients and their families
A mental health research function has been established at the SMC and has tackled a wide range of issues.
We work with a robust network of experts, press officers and journalists that all influence our work.
Our proactive press work has been popular with journalists and experts have benefited from our support to help them speak in the media.
However, demands for our time in this area now exceed the time available.
As a result the SMC will run a stakeholder event to plan a strategy for the future which will mean this work can be focussed on the areas that most need support from the mental health press officer.
Action point: the SMC will run a stakeholder event to plan strategy for future work
Review of the first three years of the mental health research function at the Science Media Centre
Science Media Centre is a registered charity (no. 1140827) and a company limited by guarantee (no. 7560997). Registered in England and Wales. Registered address: 215 Euston Road, London, NW1 2BE.
Review of the first three years of the mental health research function at the Science Media Centre February 2013
Dr Claire Bithell
Head of Mental Health
Science Media Centre