I applaud the aim of April 26th’s Golden Star editorial to provide a compassionate voice to issues of mental illness, although I must take issue with the article’s assumption that the horrific and tragic acts of Alek Minassian in Toronto last week were a function of him being mentally unwell.
This logic plays into the problematic myth that says when people do horrible things, it must be because they are mentally ill.
While this kind of thinking may come from a place of good heartedness – a general belief in the inherent goodness of people – it feeds incorrect stereotypes about people with mental illnesses and perpetuates the damaging effects of stigma.
Belief in this myth also keeps us as a society from addressing actual underlying reasons for aggression and violence.
People commit violent acts for all kinds of different reasons – anger, passion, politics, ideology, revenge, self protection, power, greed, and religion are only some examples.
And while subscribing to an extremist misogynist ideology, as may have been the case with Alek Minassian, might seem messed up and backwards, even incomprehensible, it certainly does not by definition make him mentally ill.
A few facts for clarification:
For one, research tells us that people with mental illnesses are no more likely to be violent than the general population.
They are, however, much more likely be victims of violence.
According to research from the Canadian Mental Health Association, people with serious mental illnesses are about 2.5 times more likely to be the victims of violence than other members of society.
Of course it is also true that some people with mental illnesses will exhibit violent behaviour. But it’s important to remember this is relatively rare.
For people experiencing a serious mental health problem, self harm is much much much more likely than acting out in aggression towards others.
As last week’s editorial so rightly pointed out, the need for greater knowledge and access to mental health services and supports is immense. So many people are unsure where to go or who to talk to to get help.
In recognition of this, Golden’s Child and Youth Mental Health and Substance Use Local Action Team recently launched the “I’m Not Fine” website (www.iamnotfine.ca), a comprehensive listing of services in Golden and surrounding area for children and youth.
In addition to mental health and substance use, the site also contains information about resources for sexual health, physical health, victim services and much more.
The message is that ‘any door is the right door’ for help, safety and understanding.
But greater help seeking assistance really only happens as the barriers caused by stigma are broken down.
This means combating the many myths associated with mental illnesses, including the myth that mental illness and violence go hand in hand.
The Golden Child and Youth Mental Health and Substance Use local action team