There’s been some debate sparked off by the Chaos and Control blog, which suddenly went private in the same week that it won Best PTSD/Extreme Stress Blog in the TWIM Awards. The author, Littlefeet, has since gone public again to announce the closure of her blog, and the reasons why.
I won’t bore you with the long story but the short story is that I was readmitted to hospital on 28 December and discharged today (3 January). On 29 December, I was notified by staff that my blog had come to their attention. Staff read through the archives and my phone was confiscated for 24 hours. I made a verbal agreement with staff that I would not blog while I was in hospital. Given that I wasn’t blogging about other patients and when specific staff were mentioned, they were anonymised, I felt this approach a bit heavy-handed. However, their argument was that patients who were more unwell than me could blog anything, regardless of the truth.
All of which begs the question: is it okay for patients on mental health wards to write blogs? And is it okay for the wards to stop them?
My gut feeling is that Littlefeet may have fallen foul of the institutional nervousness about social media that’s currently doing the rounds. It’s not something that’s restricted to mental health services – in fact it would be safe to say that it’s not restricted to the NHS. It’s also not only about blogging – quite a few mental health wards have banned camera phones, for example.
A lot of this nervousness has good reasons. There’s been cases where staff have been hauled up on disciplinaries due to social media – because they’ve breached confidentiality, because they’ve said something defamatory about a colleague, or crossed a client-professional boundary.
That said, social media comes with benefits as well as risks. First of all, there’s the sense of personal reward and development gained from expressing one’s views and ideas. There’s also a public gain from the sharing of information, ideas and viewpoints. As I’ve said before on this blog, I think we’re moving into an era where journalism is becoming an act of citizenship rather than something people do for a living.
I have to confess to a degree of personal bias here. I’m a fan of the Chaos and Control blog, and I voted for it in the TWIM Awards. I’ve also met Littlefeet a couple of times (in a social, not professional capacity. She’s not my patient.) She’s a very pleasant, highly intelligent woman. I also don’t think I’m betraying any confidences here by confirming that she does indeed have little feet.
Even so, I’m finding it hard to come to any conclusion other than the ward have handled the issue poorly. If she had been blogging about other patients, or making defamatory remarks about the staff, then it might have been more understandable. But she didn’t.
As for the ward’s justification, “that patients who were more unwell than me could blog anything, regardless of the truth,” I’m struggling to make any sense of that. It’s also not being patient-centred or focusing on individual needs and strengths. It reeks of managers who got anxious about the blog and then started reaching for justifications.
From browsing the comments about this decision (see not only Chaos and Control but also Claire OT’s blog) there seems to be a fairly wide consensus that it’s been poorly thought-out and badly handled. As some commenters have pointed out, it may be on dodgy ethical and/or legal turf.
How could the ward have handled it better? They could have sat down with Littlefeet and had a polite conversation, along the lines of, “We’ve noticed your blog, can we have a chat about it?” It wouldn’t be remiss to make sure she’s aware not to post anything libellous or that breaches anyone’s confidentiality and to check that she has the mental capacity to understand that request. But it would also be a good idea to discuss that positives that she was getting from the blog.
I hope that Littlefeet starts blogging again at some point. I’ve certainly enjoyed her distinctive and entertaining writing style, and would like to express my appreciation for providing the internet with an excellent and insightful first-person account of mental ill-health.