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Meet Dr. Sohom Das: Media Forensic Psychiatrist

Dr. Sohom Das chatted about a day in his life as a Media Forensic Psychiatrist.

Dr. Sohom Das
Dr. Sohom Das. Photo Courtesy of Sohom Das
Dr. Sohom Das. Photo Courtesy of Sohom Das

Dr. Sohom Das chatted about a day in his life as a Media Forensic Psychiatrist.

He discussed working in trials as an expert witness, being a part of the digital age, and how technology has played a role in his job routine.

What does your job description involve as a Media Forensic Psychiatrist?

Firstly, the forensic psychiatrist bit… This niche specialism involves the crossroads of offending and severe mental illness. In my role, I assess, treat and rehabilitate mentally disordered offenders (or who the tabloids might call “the criminally insane”).

I work with individuals in courts and prisons and in psychiatric units. My subjects typically assault, rob, stab, set fires and rape. Some kill. They suffer a range of mental illnesses; from schizophrenia, to Bipolar Affective Disorder to Anti-Social Personality Disorder and psychopathy.

Their crimes are often driven by paranoia, delusions of grandeur and hearing voices. More recently, I have moved away from rehabilitation, and specialised by becoming an Expert Witness for criminal trials.

In terms of the media aspect, I regularly provide a range of content for podcasts and TV shows – from brief sound-bites, to in-depth opinion pieces on issues related to mental health, criminality and the overlap of the two areas.

I have been featured on UK daytime TV shows (including ITV’s This Morning, BBC One’s Morning Live) and news shows (TalkTV), as well as numerous documentaries (including about Broadmoor Hospital and Belmarsh Prison). I’ve also gotten a few articles into national newspapers (iPaper and the Metro).

What other hats do you wear?

I’m also YouTuber. I am trying to educate the masses about a whole range of issues related to criminality and mental health. For example, what is a psychopath and how do you spot one? What is gaslighting? What kind of character traits, background, upbringing and environment make a terrorist or a serial killer? What are Incels and how can we stop them? So, not your typical dinner table conversation, but it’s all fascinating to me.

I’m also a failed amateur stand-up comic.

Can you tell us more about assessing mentally disordered offenders, and working in trials as an expert witness?

To give evidence during a criminal trial, I need to assess the defendant in person. They have usually committed a heinous crime (such as sexual assault or violence, including murder). But do they have a mental illness?

My job as an Expert Witness is to look at all of the objective evidence to figure this out; such as medical records, speaking to their psychiatrist, CCTV footage, police interview transcripts and witness statements (including the victim’s or innocent bystanders).

I use this information to either declare that there is no mental illness or formulate a diagnosis, if there is one. I then filter out the very small proportion of offenders who are not criminally responsible and need to be rehabilitated for long-term treatment within a secure psychiatric unit for the, rather than punished and imprisoned.

As you might suspect, a significant proportion try to fake or exaggerate symptoms; I’m the guy who has to catch them out. Armed with my evidence and professional opinions, I swear in onto the witness stand and am cross-examined by a number of stern people in gowns and wigs.

My most extreme kinds of cases have included psychotic mothers who have killed their own children, and people who have murdered random strangers, because they are hearing voices. Not for the faint hearted.

How does it feel to be a part of the digital age? (Now with streaming, technology and social media being so prevalent)

I have mixed feelings about the digital age. I’m 44 so I didn’t grow up with social media. Frankly, some of it goes against my natural tendencies. I enjoy making YouTube videos, because I pick topics that I think are interesting to the general public and are misunderstood.

I’m not the kind of person that wants to take a picture of my fancy brunch and show it to the world. It’s a bit cringe for me. I also find much of Twitter quite tedious.

It seems to be full of people either complaining about something for sympathy, or intentionally misunderstanding each other’s comments, to get into a pointless argument. As a father of two young boys, this unnecessary bickering seems too familiar to me.

Having said that, I also appreciate that I have to adapt with the times, particularly as I am trying to grow my media brand. I like to post videos regularly on YouTube and answer any comments myself.

If I’m being perfectly honest, I am unmotivated (i.e. crap) at making content for other platforms, and don’t really have the time. So, I cheat – I employ somebody else to do this for me. The poor guy is constantly asking me to give him more content (like the aforementioned pics of brunch), and I’m not very cooperative.

How do you use technology in your daily routine?

When it comes to technology, I have the instincts and abilities of an introverted pensioner. For example, I work out every day. I have tried fitness apps and a Fitbit, but I can’t see the benefits for me.

Being sweaty and breathless and feeling a rush of endorphins feels far more fulfilling than charting out the number of miles I’ve run, to show off to the world. Who cares? – about my milage or my brunch-age?

Apart from my laptop to write reports and my iPhone to record YouTube videos, I don’t really use technology. However, since the original Covid restrictions, I have noticed a trend towards prisons and courts preferring experts, such as myself, to assess prisoners remotely via video conferencing.

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it cuts out a mundane part of my life; i.e. commuting to prisons and sitting around waiting in queues to get through security.

On the other hand, I think I lose the effectiveness and quality of some (though not all) assessments. It’s much harder to pick up some subtleties in somebody’s body language or mental state by not having them right in front of me.

What do your plans for the future include?

I want to take over the world. Or at least the ‘media expert in crime’ corner of the world. Tragically, I feel there is so much that goes on related to crime on an almost daily basis.

People misunderstand so many things and there doesn’t seem to be much of a voice to explain and educate the public, at least, from a front-line professional. I want to fill that space. It is happening, and I am getting TV spots. But it’s going very, very slowly. At this current rate, I think I will achieve my goals by the year 2307.

I also give soundbites regularly for documentaries but would like to present my own show, related to crime or to mental health issues. Or ideally, the crossover between the two.

Were there any moments in your career that have helped define you?

My first case giving evidence in a murder trial was at the Old Bailey, definitely stands out. The defendant, Yasmin (not her real name), was an 18-year-old school-girl who killed her two-year-old nephew in a flash of psychosis.

This case was so unusual was because she didn’t have any history of violence or problems with her mental health. She had delusional beliefs that the toddler had demons lurking inside, and that she could later resurrect him.

Upon my evidence, the judge agreed with the Insanity Plea. Therefore, Yasmin avoided life imprisonment and instead was transferred for long-term rehabilitation onto a female medium secure psychiatric ward.

I was involved with her treatment and recovery (including family therapy with her brother, father of the little boy) and eventual release. Obviously, the emotional aspects of this case were immense, including my interactions with her family.

it was also a hugely educational opportunity for me, to give evidence at the Old Bailey, about psychiatric defences, including being cross examined. It also really cemented for me how important it is for forensic psychiatrists to get it right. A poor performance backing up that evidence under cross-examination can have critical repercussions.

Our words can change the lives of those in the docks. We can steer the incapacitated, the vulnerable and the voiceless away from a lifetime of incarceration, towards recovery. Get it wrong, and we can be instrumental in the guilty literally getting away with murder.

Even though being cross-examined in court was terrifying, it was also exhilarating. That’s when I first got a taste of courtroom drama and decided to become an expert witness.

Other career-defining moments for me occurred, when I was a middle grade doctor. I worked for some excellent Consultant Forensic Psychiatrists (they are basically the boss is at the top of the hierarchy of doctors). I also worked under some rubbish ones. I learnt exactly what to model and replicate and what not to. This all helped guide me to eventually become a consultant myself.

For example, a good leader can diplomatically guide a team within a secure psychiatric unit for offenders (made up of junior doctors, nurses, psychologists, occupational therapist, and social workers); ensuring that everybody’s opinion is heard, and everybody pulls their weight.

A good forensic psychiatrists can help their team process some difficult emotions that we feel for our patients on the ward who sometimes can be hostile and challenging.

They straddle that thin line between being the authoritarian who does things that the patient might not particularly appreciate (such as increasing medication and stopping their leave), whilst still having the communication skills and empathy to support and care for some of the most damaged members society.

What is your advice for young and aspiring forensic psychiatrists?

In some circumstances, it’s easy to get a cushy job and rest on your laurels. It’s tempting to just cruise and bide your time until you become a Consultant.

My advice would be to really use your opportunity as a junior trainee to get as much experience in as many different settings as possible; from low, medium and high secure psych wards to prisons to stalking clinics (that really is a thing) and to see the most intense cases, such very strange crimes or rare diagnoses.

Once you become a Consultant, it’s much harder to ask for back-up or for a second opinion. You are so overburdened with cases and the workload that you might find yourself stuck in a rut.

However, the weird and wonderful are there to find as a trainee. But extraordinary assignments don’t fall into your lap. You have to push. I was one of these (possibly annoying) ‘eager beavers’ who was constantly pestering Consultants to accompany them to unusual or high-profile assessments. It’s your responsibility to make sure work never gets stale.

Also – don’t do media work. This town ain’t big enough for the two of us… I’m kidding. But I would tell any budding forensics psychiatrist that want to breaking into this world, that it is a tedious and time-consuming slog. You need to make sure that you have enough space in your life to balance this with professional work, and family and hobbies.

What does the word success mean to you? (My favorite question)

If I’m being honest, I think I struggle with the word “success”. To me, it’s the unobtainable fruit, that always just out of reach. I am very driven, which is great for somebody in my career and for somebody foolish enough to try to make it in the world of media.

I am up at 5 a.m. every day. I get to the gym regularly and I’m always hustling to get more exposure and to get myself out there. The flip side of that is that I am never fully satisfied.

Once I have achieved a goal (e.g. being chosen to give evidence in a high profile murder case, or making it on to daytime TV or a talking head for a documentary), it all feels a little bit of an anti-climax. I’m constantly moving the goalposts and redefining my definition of success.

If I’m taking a hard introspective honest look at myself, the solution is obvious. I need to be happy with what I have and what I have done. Deep down, I’ve known this subconsciously for quite some time. I’m just not fully ready to accept it.

To learn more about Dr. Sohom Das, visit his official website.

Markos Papadatos
Written By

Markos Papadatos is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for Music News. Papadatos is a Greek-American journalist and educator that has authored over 21,000 original articles over the past 18 years. He has interviewed some of the biggest names in music, entertainment, lifestyle, magic, and sports. He is a 16-time "Best of Long Island" winner, where for three consecutive years (2020, 2021, and 2022), he was honored as the "Best Long Island Personality" in Arts & Entertainment, an honor that has gone to Billy Joel six times.

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