SAMH response to BBC Panorama episode

26th July 2017

BBC1 are to broadcast an episode of Panorama this evening (Wednesday 26 July) entitled ‘A Prescription for Murder?’

SAMH is concerned that the content and message of this programme could be alarming to anyone taking the type of antidepressants known as SSRIs.   

The programme focuses on a high-profile shooting which took place in 2012 at the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight in Aurora, Colorado. It investigates an alleged link between the SSRI medication that the perpetrator, James Holmes, had been prescribed and the murders committed.

Over 846,979 people in Scotland were prescribed at least one antidepressant last year. Sertraline, the specific SSRI mentioned in the Panorama programme, is the third most commonly prescribed antidepressant in Scotland. Anyone who is currently taking SSRIs, or any other medication for their mental health, should be reassured that millions of people take these drugs safely every day. There can be side effects and SAMH wants to see these taken more seriously: but these side effects are generally physical, such as feeling sick, having trouble sleeping or experiencing headaches. There is evidence that a minority of people experience suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harm when they first take SSRIs.

If you’re thinking about stopping your medication, please speak to your GP or pharmacist about the best way to do this and possible alternatives. If you are experiencing unwanted side effects, you can also report these via the Yellow Card scheme.

SAMH wants everyone with a mental health problem to be able to ask once and get help fast. Medication can be very important in facilitating recovery, and we would always encourage you to take an active role in the prescription of any medication. Official guidance says most people with mild to moderate depression should initially be offered therapy, self-help or physical activity instead of antidepressants, and we want to see that upheld. We also want more frequent reviews for people who are prescribed psychiatric medication, to ensure that any side effects are identified and dealt with quickly.

Along with our partner See Me, Scotland’s anti-stigma programme, we are concerned that this programme stigmatises mental health problems and those on medication, by feeding into negative stereotypes. More people than ever before are seeking help for their mental health problems and it’s important that we continue to encourage anyone experiencing a mental health problem to visit their GP.


See commentary on the recent media coverage on antidepressants and some useful advice from the Royal College of Psychiatrists here.