Anders Breivik: Violence is not a common symptom of mental illness
Today marks the last scheduled day in the trial of Anders Behring Breivik, who, on the 22nd July 2011, killed 77 young Norweigians and injured 242 others. What we do know is that he is a self confessed Islamaphobic militant killer, what we don’t know is whether he has a psychiatric illness.
You wouldn’t know that from the unqualified opinions demonstrated widely at the time of the killings, because to the vast majority of people expressing an opinion this man was a ‘psycho’ a ‘lunatic’ and a ‘madman’. This is a common reaction when those amongst us behave in a way which challenges our own frame of moral reference, but in actual fact the two psychiatric reports on which Breivik’s sentence will rely completely contradict one another.
What is worrying is the little known fact that if you are a person with a psychiatric illness or a mental health condition, you are much more likely to become the victim of crime rather than a criminal. Hitchcock’s notion of a Psycho with a mother complex has fallen into fokelore and informed the narrative in such a way that mental health and violence as a symbiotic relationship is now entrenched in our collective psyche.
One Mind Charity factsheet Dangerousness and Mental Health the facts about the subjective fear of danger from attack by those with a mental health condition far outweigh the reality.
In fact, it goes on to detail in information gained from National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide by People with Mental Illness – Annual report: England and Wales, 2009, which stated that in three years ago the population of England and Wales was over 43 million and 7 million adults had a significant mental health issue, yet only 50-70 homicides per year during the period looked at were committed by people known to have a mental health problem.
Much more worryingly, stats taken from Minds Another Assault Campaign demonstrate these results.
· 71% of respondents had been victimised in the last two years
· 22% had been physically assaulted
· 27% had been sexually harassed and 10% sexually assaulted
· 22% reported being physically assaulted
· 41% were the victims of ongoing bullying
· 26% had their homes targeted
· Nearly 90% of respondents living in local authority housing had been victimised.
It would be interesting to look at these figures again now in light of recent cuts to services and provisions and with the reformation of the benefits system, to see if attacks have risen again.
The notion of fear of the “lunatic on the loose” feeds and bleeds so fully into our consciousness that those who live with mental health issues face a stigma so overwhelming and frightening that they live silently and delay seeking help because of the stigma we reinforce through normalizing of stereotyping language.
Charities like Mind and Time to Change can and do help to alleviate this stigma through education because as with many issues like this bigoted attitudes towards mental health are formed through fear and ignorance.
Talking frankly about mental health and psychiatric illness, and losing stigmatizing damaging epithets and notions, is the first step to challenging stereotypes and reducing ignorance, because as Mind state so well “more than a third of the public believe people diagnosed with schizophrenia are likely to be violent. The reality is that people are as likely to be struck by lightning as to be harm by a stranger with a mental illness”.
Any one of us could experience a mental health condition at any time. The evidence is clear that seeking help and treatment can only happen if the culture we live in begins to adapt and see that illness – whether mental or physical – must be treated equally in terms of attitudes. Because while the stranglehold of judgemental fear prevents us speaking honestly to our friends and family how can we make the crucial step to a GP’s appointment or be enabled to convalesce with crucial support.
Stigma prevents many seeking the help they need, normalizing of cruel language feeds that stigma and from there those who really need help at whatever point on the mental health spectrum are prevented.
Whether or not Breivik is a paranoid schizophrenic man with extreme psychopathy or instead, a militant extremist with a racist hatred so profound he became a killer, or both, no one is entirely sure. We can’t prevent this type of horror but we can report it responsibly and take steps today to detach the myth of the “mental” from the reality of the illness by remembering that the survivors of his actions and the people who love them may experience mental health problems as a direct result of the trauma he inflicted.
Most of all we could take our lead from the gentle, compassionate and dignified way in which the people of Norway responded to this assault on human decency.Tagged in: Anders Breivik, mental health, mental health stigma, murder, pyscho, schizophrenia, violence
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