Extremism is not a mental illness
This blog is a summary of a statement from the Mental Health Foundation of NZ (20 March, 2019) following the terrorist attack. We thought it was so good we would put a shorter version on our website.
Following the 15th March’s appalling terrorist attack, many people have suggested that the terrorist must have been mentally ill. It is perhaps comforting to think this but this answer is probably fiction. It wrongly connects mental distress with ‘violence’ or ‘threatening’ and ‘a risk to the community’ which is deeply troubling. The terrorist is an extremist but it is an unfair leap to assume we can blame mental illness for his actions. One, it lets ourselves and the country off the hook from reckoning with racism, white supremacy and the anti-immigrant sentiments that directly led to this attack. This is not part of mental illness. Two, people who live with mental health issues in NZ are already some of the most vulnerable people, recipients of prejudice and discrimination and incorrectly blamed for disproportionate amounts of violence.
In fact, people with mental illnesses are 14 x times more likely to be victims of violence than the average Kiwi.
There is however, a connection between this event and mental distress.
The connection is this: being on the receiving end of racism, discrimination, exclusion and bullying are all factors for mental distress.
They all contribute to suicide. Here is one thing we can do: GIVE NOTHING TO RACISM. Casual racism emboldens extremists and puts minorities at risk. The burden this places on their mental health cannot be overstated. We cannot and will not see fewer people experiencing mental illness or lower suicide rates unless we do something about racism and discrimination. Until people feel able to be their whole selves, express their identity, faith and culture without judgment, fear or discrimination.
To read the entire statement from the MHF https://www.mentalhealth.org.nz/home/news/article/244/statement-from-the-mhf-extremism-is-not-a-mental-illness
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