“To encourage respect”

Earlier this month the Royal College of Psychiatrists “reissued” their Social Media Policy “to encourage respect”:The reissuing of this policy attracted a number of responses from Members of the Royal College of Psychiatrists [the bolding has been added by me] :

  • One College member, who is a prolific user of Twitter, stated: “I am all me if you get my drift and I tweet it all out.”
  • Another College member said: “I don’t find that helpful. The General Medical Council has the role of setting standards doctors need to follow throughout their careers. We don’t need the Royal College of Psychiatrists wading in.”
  • And another member said: “I feel the Royal College of Psychiatrists is being a little harsh with its rules.”

The thread ended with this contribution [this was not by a psychiatrist]: “Screenshot this and when people make vexatious reports about you to the Royal College of Psychiatrists you can report Dame Wendy [Professor Wendy Burn] and they will see the error of their new policy’s way.”

The Core Values for Psychiatrists as set out by the Royal College of Psychiatrists are: Communication, Dignity, Empathy, Fairness, Honesty, Humility, Respect and Trust.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has always been determined to ‘combat’ stigma.  Although there is no generally accepted specific theory of stigma, it can be defined as ‘an attribute that is deeply discrediting and that reduces the bearer from a whole and usual person to a tainted, discounted one’ (Goffman, 1963). One of the initiatives set up by the Royal College of Psychiatrists to address stigma is this educational module. The module, in its introduction, states: “Attitudes held by health professionals, including those who work in and outside of mental health, can have positive and negative impacts upon patient quality of care.” A whole section of this module explores this question: What can people including psychiatrists do to reduce stigma? 

The advent of social media has created a new environment where health professionals are at risk of increasing rather than reducing stigma. The balance of power between psychiatrists and patients [members of the public] has always been unequal because of the legal authority to detain. This imbalance also includes the application of diagnostic categories to others. It is disappointing to see any misuse of this power, for this will only perpetuate stigma. It is a real challenge for the Royal College of Psychiatrists to ensure that the values that the organisation has set out are followed by its members in all settings, including social media.

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