October 31, 2013

Simon Darnley, South London and Maudsley NHS TrustI have been asked to write a blog about my thoughts and feelings about BEDLAM, the documentary that was shown last night on Channel 4. I am the Head of the Anxiety Disorders Residential Unit (ADRU) featured in the programme. I’m the guy looking very odd, walking in the woods talking about “intrusive thoughts”.

The documentary would never have happened without the residents involved taking a big risk and opening up some of their most personal problems to a TV audience of millions. I think they were extremely brave to do this. I know they did so in the belief that by showing their problems, suffering and progress they can give hope and inspiration to others. Well I think they did that admirably and I’m sure it will help people recognise some of the problems they themselves may have and offer hope that they are not alone and that help is available.

In the past we had been approached by various TV producers who saw potential for a TV programme showing the types of problems we treat and the work we do at the unit. I was always open to the possibility but, when the Garden Productions team, who had a great track record of excellent documentary making with One Born Every Minute and 24 hours in A&E, approached us, I felt assured that they would do a sensible, non sensationalist job of portraying the issues involved.

The cameras soon became a familiar sight on the unit

They started filming in October 2012 and were with us until May 2013. We had many meetings with the directors, staff and residents and informed every resident before coming to the unit that this was going to happen and if they wanted not to be filmed then that was fine and it would not affect their treatment. Even though many of the residents were anxious about the filming, the cameras soon became a familiar sight on the unit. They even gave some of the residents their own camcorders to record their own thoughts and feelings about treatment and their problems.

It can be quite unnerving when you are trying to do therapy with a camera inches from your face, just ask Anna one of the therapists featured in the programme! Overall the TV production team were very sensitive and discussed anything that may have caused potential anxiety or got in the way of treatment.

The biggest regret is that the show is less than an hour long

The biggest regret is that the show is less than an hour long. There was so much that was filmed but had to be left out. The unit is a much more inclusive and richer place than shown in the documentary. We have a motto “your courage is met by our compassion”. When people first come to our unit we explain that the therapy is a full time job and that residents need to immerse themselves in the programme and live it 24 hours a day.

As well as 3-5 sessions of individual therapy with your therapist, we have a weekly skills group, community meeting and an ongoing compassionate mind group where people address issues of self criticism and shame. Lisa Johnston heads up a team of occupational therapists that runs a whole bunch of innovative programmes for the residents.

We have our own art building residents can access 24hours a day, a walled garden where people can grow vegetables and then learn to cook and eat as a community, weekly group outings to places such as Borough Market or museums where people can practice facing their fears. We also encourage a therapeutic community with other residents supporting and encouraging each other in treatment long after the staff leave at 5.00pm. All these things were filmed but unfortunately a lot missed the cut.

I am very proud of the staff that were involved in the programme

I am very proud of the staff that were involved in the programme, not just the ones who were shown on screen but the many other occupational therapists, housekeepers, CBT therapists, therapy assistants ,doctors, administrators, volunteers and other residents around at the time who, as part of therapeutic community, all contribute to people getting better.

In summary; would I do it again?... yes definitely, maybe we should have had our own series!

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