BBC Drama Promotes Schizophrenia Myths

TV programmes promote agendas behind of smokescreen of wishful thinking. Waterloo Road is no exception.

Over the last three years Waterloo Road has sought to raise awareness about certain social issues with varying degrees of success and misinterpretation. Considering the programme’s main appeal is to teenagers, it comes as a shock, but sadly not a surprise, that the last episode focussed the attention of millions of youngsters on one of the most poorly misunderstood psychiatric labels, schizophrenia, a dated term that should really be replaced by something more specific like psychosis. However, it is commonly referred to, in polite circles, by the euphemism “mental health” (shouldn’t we all aspire to good mental health?”). Thus if this programme has done nothing it has instilled in people’s minds that when teachers and social workers talk about “mental health”, they really mean “schizophrenia” or plain English “madness”.

Not only was the portrayal unrealistic, it perpetrated the myth that psychosis just bedevils someone out of the blue. As misfits are increasingly labelled with Aspergers and ADHD (and often diagnosed by the same so-called professionals), this excuses the behaviour of bullies against weirdoes. In the not too distant past, weirdoes were just kind of different, but nonetheless valid human beings. Now thanks to psychiatrisation, their deviant behaviour is considered pathological. If many teenage kids did not know what schizophrenia means, they do now and it will, thanks to the BBC, become the latest playground term of abuse.

In the vast majority of cases of real psychosis, either drugs, whether recreational or indeed prescribed, have been involved or there have been significant environmental factors, such as physical and emotional abuse, traumatic events, bullying, poor diet, exposure to hallucinogenic chemicals or, minor brain damage after an accident. In many cases psychosis represents the final stage in a downward spiral of alienation and rejection.

It seldom appears in well-balanced teenagers with a good diet, not into drugs, with a stable family background and plenty of friends. Out in the real world, over 50% of cases of psychosis in London are related to skunk, yet in the mythical world presented by the psychiatric/pharmaceutical lobby it is a hereditary “endogenous” disorder that merely has environmental triggers. Sure, some people may be more susceptible to manifest psychotic behaviour, but the potential is there in all of us. Everyone is a potential psychopath and all men are potential rapists.

In all likelihood you sought advice from so-called charities that promote the biogenetic model of madness.

In all honesty programmes like Waterloo Rd should steer well clear of “personality disorders” and focus on real social problems, not least the alienation of uncool children who fail to fit in with an increasingly conformist dumbed-down hive mentality. We are not disordered as individuals, society is…


Dear Mr Gard[e]ner

Thanks for your e-mail regarding ‘Waterloo Road’.

I understand you had concerns that the programme focused on mental health issues and schizophrenia. I note you feel that this is an area that the programme should avoid.

As you are aware the programme focuses on its teachers and students, and confronts social issues, including affairs, abortion, divorce and suicide.

The show has been designed to be entertaining but at the same time we do hope that it has some real things to say about the experience of teaching in an inner city school, the barriers to that being an easy place to work and how hard teachers work to change the lives of some children.

Nevertheless, feedback like your own helps to inform the discussion about a programme’s tone and content and the reactions of our audiences are closely studied by our producers and senior management to ensure the right judgement is being made about what is acceptable to the audience in general.

With your complaint in mind I can assure you that I’ve registered your comments on our audience log. This is the internal report of audience feedback which we compile daily for all programme makers and commissioning executives within the BBC, and also their senior management. It ensures that your points, and all other comments we receive, are circulated and considered across the BBC.

Thanks again for taking the time to e-mail us.


name withheld for legal reason

BBC Complaints