From: Dr Peter Gordon
Sent: 18 September 2020
To: Professor Robert Howard
Thank you for this. I am grateful.
I felt that I needed to reply because I do not agree with your summary. My concern was with behaviour by professionals that departed from the Core Values of the College and GMC Guidance on Doctors Use of Social Media. It is entirely legitimate to raise concerns about this and I want to give you one last prompt to reflect on this.
I shared your own words and set the context of the extant guidance. Meantime you have described me on social media in unpleasant terms and questioned my mental health having diagnosed me by a BINGO card.
I have not read your Tweets nor those of Dr Mark Swinton as I have found the language you used to describe me as unnecessarily derogatory and some weeks ago decided not to look at Twitter again. Other people have also experienced distress as a result of your use of language on social media and at least one individual was left suicidal as a result.
Telling truth to power is not easy and sometimes may require persistence. The intention is not to cause upset but to facilitate understanding.
I feel liberated having made the difficult decision to retire from psychiatry but can reflect warmly on the good working relationships I had with my colleagues. I will also miss the insight into the lives of others that comes from contact with patients.
I do not intend to write to you further and wish you well.
On Twitter the provocative language that Professor Howard chooses to use is regularly unpleasant and often nasty. Professor Howard has openly stated that he “enjoys” it when his provocative language causes distress. He describes this as a “highly validating sign” [here Professor Howard appears to be suggesting that any fault/issue is with the recipient].
Professor Howard responds to any critical feedback of psychiatry made on social media by labelling those offering such feedback as “trolls” or “anti-psychiatrists”. Given that Professor Howard is a senior academic and scientist, it is interesting to note this departure from scientific method, which to be valid, requires openness to all feedback.
On social media, Professor Howard has a routine approach to views that he does not agree with. Instead of doing his best to consider the specific point being raised, he will generally use language that suggests there is a “problem” with the contributor. If an exchange does develop, it is not uncommon for Professor Howard to use sarcasm or to patronise: to try and belittle the contributor. Sometimes this will include the invocation of sexualised innuendo. This often encourages some of his Twitter followers to join in.
Professor Howard has suggested that some of those who have expressed concerns about his behaviour on social media may be motivated by a sexual attraction to him and has used ‘BINGO cards’ to ‘confirm’ this bizarre theory. From my point of view, my only interest is in relation to the behaviour of mental health professionals on social media. Professional values matter. I have looked at this as widely as I can for this reason alone. I do not use inflammatory language. I can reassure Professor Howard that I have no special interest in him. Indeed, he has no relevance in my life whatsoever. I have many interests. Professor Howard is not one of them.
Professor Howard, like a number of other prominent social media psychiatrists, who routinely ignore College Core Values, argue that concerns raised in relation to this somehow amounts to “harassment”. The following quote from a newspaper comes to mind:
In sharing the following material, all from the public domain, the intention is to provide an opportunity for professionals to reflect on why the collective values of an organisation, such as the Royal College of Psychiatrists, really do matter. Core Values for Psychiatrists as set out by the College 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.
(1) has stated that advocating for transparency in science is a “misguided pursuit”
(2) is of the view that Realistic Medicine has common-ground with Scientology
(3) considers antidepressant withdrawal symptoms to be “rare” and “not the issue that some are suggesting”
(4) describes members of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Prescribed Drug Dependence as “shadowy”
(5) regularly uses demeaning, loaded, provocative, and catch-all terms to describe those who share harmful experiences of psychiatric treatments
(6) has stated that he “enjoys attention” on social media, including responses to his value-laden comments, and describes these responses as “highly validating”
(7) asks others “to reflect on their behaviour” yet never acknowledges the distress that his social media behaviour routinely causes to many vulnerable people
(8) has expressed his view, as a registered doctor, that raising legitimate concerns in relation to College Core Values amounts to “harassment” and is a reflection of “sadistic” behaviour by those concerned that professional values are not being followed
(9) labels patients who have been mis-diagnosed with dementia as “Munchausen’s portrayals”
(10) has stated that he “does not recognise” wilful blindness.
Please note: I have full evidence of all the above.
If an organisation such as the Royal College of Psychiatrists wishes to aspire to being the arbiter of professionalism, and to assume the position of power that comes with this role, then that organisation and its representatives must be willing to be held publicly accountable when they are perceived to depart from the values they collectively espouse.
“This is a ‘professional’ who, in all honesty, is nasty”.
“I find Professor Howard’s remarks offensive and insulting ”
“[the] mocking by this person [Prof Howard] [has continued] for days.”
“The more he [Prof Howard] tweets, the worse he looks. Unsympathetic, huge lack of understanding, unwillingness to listen, zero empathy. Pretty much the main traits you wouldn’t want in a Mental health professional”
“Prof Rob Howard has already left two people expressing serious distress being in danger as a result. I’m worried he is harming people. So many good folks out there, let’s focus our attention on them and start virtuous cycle of genuine change?”
“What I have read this last 2 weeks from Prof Howard on Twitter WAS ONE OF THE MAIN REASONS I needed support early hours from 111 services the other night. I am still recuperating now. He [Prof Howard] did much harm to me psychologically this week. I was soooo triggered about my harm and He [Prof Howard] let it be known where people like me belong. Cruel man . . . no compassion or empathy at all” [capitalisation and emphasis as written by the social media contributor]
“Prof Howard, its honestly its not like that. My wish is to see real change and an abandonment of damaging psychiatric myths for those that come after me. I’m not a “these people” I’m a Dad who thinks the way we were misled has no place within regulated medicine. They nearly took my boy.”
“Prof Howard treats harmed patients with disdain”
“Prof Howard has a vested interest in discrediting harmed patient safety campaigners on this platform who are challenging the authority of psychiatry”
“Prof Howard [makes clear] that the *only* patients worth listening to are the patients who support his worldview.”
“You can see the utter contempt in the way Prof Howard addresses those who he does not agree with.”
“Only person that I have ever blocked, his content always upsets me.”
“Who is it?”
“Prof Rob Howard”
“Prof Howard, please feel free to correct my grammar, laugh at my profile pic or pity my confusion in a typical ad hominem response.”
“It is disturbing and unbecoming of an academic to use ad hominem attacks and label [those he does not agree with] as ‘destructive individuals’. ”
“Comments like these [by Professor Rob Howard] are intended to cause pain and distress. That’s not acceptable and not in accordance with College values.”
“Labeling accurate information as ‘misinformation’ is terrible and reduces trust even further. Someone should have a word with Professor Rob Howard about the long term impacts of his denialist propaganda.”
“I see you are denigrating harmed patients again, Prof Howard, shame on you, you bring your profession into disrepute.”
“That you [Prof Howard] belittle and try to silence us is callous and cruel.”
“I have come to the conclusion that Prof Howard is incapable of engaging in any form of discussion at all, he rarely if ever responds to harmed patients in a constructive manner”
“I know it would be different if I was lauding and applauding the profession of psychiatry, if I had a mental illness and said I was benefitting from my treatment, then Prof Howard would fall over himself to say how brave I was to speak out.”
“Prof Howard likes to portray harmed patients as the villains compared to the heroes who take their meds and describe their benefits, he is one of the most divisive professionals I have come across.”
“Your cruelness as a professional is beyond words”
“I have grave concerns about Professor Rob Howard and his constant need to harm and invalidate people”
“I’ve seen plenty of nastiness in the past, but this is off the scale. It’s very disturbing behaviour by Professor Rob Howard”
“I think that you should report him to the police because he is targeting you because of your disability and that is a hate crime”
“He’s been doing this oh so unpleasant cyber bullying to a great many of us patients. He shames his whole profession”
“Prof Howard you are so cruel and unecessarily hurtful”
“I found your comments really upsetting. For someone who calls themself a professional to have this attitude is disgusting”
“I have no idea how he is allowed to practice given his views”
“What a nasty man this is”
“Having never met [this person], and sitting behind the comfort of your keyboard, you are re-diagnosing her? Is this how you usually diagnose your patients? As I said, these comments are defamatory”
“This is defamation, and your targeted harassment of someone with a disability is extremely upsetting. I think [your employers] should be very concerned about this.”
“I’m too tired to call out Prof Rob Howard but I really am surprised the GMC doesn’t step in.”
“An offensive individual, well known for his unprofessional behaviour”.
“Do you not think it is important to uphold college values Prof Howard? What is the point of [the Royal College of Psychiatrists] having them on [their] website then?”
This is Professor Wendy Burn’s view [15 June 2022]:
Professor Wendy Burn is fully aware that Prof Rob Howard routinely ignores College Core Values and was aware of this throughout the period in which she was President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists [2017-2020]. It is concerning that a recent past-President would chose to represent the unprofessional behaviour of a College member in such a light-hearted way. A casual approach like this, by a medical leader, gives a ‘green light’ for such unprofessional behaviour to continue. This should worry us all.
Please note: I understand that Prof Howard has stated on social media that I referred him to the GMC. This not correct. I do not know who may have referred Prof Howard to the GMC, I just know that I have not.