Is Louis Theroux Helping Or Hindering Mental Health?

Last Sunday, Louis Theroux’s documentary By Reason Of Insanity started on BBC Two. I have to start this post with the disclaimer that I really enjoy Louis Theroux documentaries.

He’s not afraid to ask the questions we’re thinking, and he’s so fantastically awkward, which is a trait I adore in influential people…it makes them seem more human, y’know?

When tuning in to his latest documentary, all I knew was that it was Louis meeting people with mental health issues. I didn’t know the title of the show, so I wasn’t aware until we started tuning in that it was about those who had been institutionalised for their crimes by reason of insanity.

One of the things I liked about the show is that they didn’t jump straight into the crimes for most of the patients – we got to know them a bit first, before knowing why they had been put away. Amongst the people on this week’s show were a man who killed his own father, a man who attacked a policeman, and someone who had been in the facility for 14 years for violent crimes.

It was incredibly interesting to see how the institution is run, although I do question some of the practices. Some of the doctors seemed almost blasé about the underlying issues that saw their patients sentenced, for example patients applying for day release or “movement” changes were almost automatically approved internally for what they were after. Almost like ticking boxes, without really appreciating every aspect of the consequences.

However, this wasn’t the most difficult thing to watch about this documentary. What was hard for me, was seeing how ‘numb’ some of the patients appeared after taking stacks of medication to calm them. Whilst the medication is crucial to stabilise, it felt like they were being pumped with drugs to make them stable enough for release. Then onto the next.

The show as a whole was devastatingly sad – despite their terrible crimes, I couldn’t help but feel for them. Some of them were dealing with types of depression and schizophrenia – one or two of which were in complete denial of their crimes. The mind is an incredibly powerful thing, and I can’t even begin to understand how these people are wired, and what makes them do the things they do, and feel the things they feel.

Overall, I did think that the show did a pretty good job of showing how awful mental health issues can be. Louis, as usual, took the appropriate approach of (on the whole) sitting on the fence – neither judging, or too sympathetic. On the other hand, with the use of such extreme cases of mental health problems, those that might not fully understand (or at all sympathise with) mental health issues might be too quick to judge.

It will be really interesting to see how the show progresses. Part Two is on tonight at 9pm on BBC Two, and Part 1 is on iPlayer.

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  1. Sophie Wearing

    I too have a post crafted on this series! I love him and his documentaries, his topics are always really interesting and his style is great at information gathering! As someone who has worked on a uk version of that unit,I hope the programme helps to distill some of the misconceptions about people with mental health issues. Sadly, based on the enslaught I've heard since the German pilot, there is still a long way to go.

  2. Cat Fyson

    Oh I'll have to take a look! Yeah I know, there's been an awful lot of misunderstanding about mental health. Fingers crossed this will change soon! x

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