Social Media “Emboldens” Stalkers to Take Action, Warns Expert | Mental Health


Social media acts as a “catalyst” for stalkers to act on delusional beliefs, warned England’s most experienced clinician working with abusers.

Frank Farnham, National Stalking Clinic clinical manager and consultant forensic psychiatrist, said there was growing evidence that stalkers were “emboldened and galvanized” by the realization that others share conspiracy theories or a deep resentment towards prominent personalities.

“We consider social media to be very important for a number of reasons,” he said. “If you are alone and you have this [delusional] belief, you might feel unsure about it, but then you go on the internet and find loads of other like-minded people. It acts as a catalyst.

Referrals to the clinic, which works with health, probation and prison services, have increased dramatically over the past 18 months, Farnham said, after increased social isolation and increased unemployment caused by the pandemic.

“There is the perfect storm of… changes in the economy that are making it harder and harder, the stress of Covid and social isolation and the ability to go on social media and find people sharing the same ideas, ”he said. “It’s a recipe for action.

“We are seeing more and more people who appear to be at risk of… posing threats,” he added. “They’ll say things like, ‘We’re a movement, it’s not just me, others will follow.’ That kind of language will come out when they write a letter to, say, a member of Parliament.

The warning comes at a time when the UK is more concerned about the risks to public figures following the murder of Tory MP Sir David Amess.

This week, it was reported that between April 2020 and April 2021, the Metropolitan Police recorded 52 violations of letters or messages sent to addresses in parliament with “intent to cause distress or anxiety” – and many other cases of harassment and stalking go unreported.

However, Farnham said chronic underfunding and the fact that mental health services were not set up to support people with delusional disorders could increase the risk of dangerous people falling through the cracks. of the net.

Experts divide stalkers into subsets, not all of whose behaviors are underpinned by mental illness. Former partners, who make up about half of the cases, are typically vengeful individuals with no underlying psychiatric disorders. Authority figures such as MPs or doctors are particularly vulnerable to “resentful” stalkers who mistakenly believe their victim is responsible for things that have gone wrong in their lives.

This group can be treated with a combination of antipsychotic drugs, psychological therapy, and occupational therapy – for many, harassment and harassment has “become a full-time job,” which needs to be replaced. “A lot of times we are dealing with people here who have long-standing and entrenched delusions,” he said.

Positive results, which are not guaranteed, usually require months of treatment, which is expensive. And a public health treatment model means that the overall risk of stalkers is partly managed by reaching people before they pose a credible threat. “It’s like blood pressure and stroke,” Farnham said. “We’re not trying to predict who’s going to be dangerous. There could be 100 people making a threat and one trying to carry it out. We have to treat everyone.

Reaching this group of people, many of whom do not recognize they need treatment, was already difficult, but has become even more difficult over the past year.

“As a clinician on the ground, Covid has placed a tremendous burden on mental health services. We don’t have the money to deal with some of the people who are “stably wrong,” Farnham said. “If we improve mental health services at all levels, we are probably going to improve them almost by accident. “

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