It seems that hardly a day goes by when there is a news report of yet another unprovoked attack on an innocent person. The latest was the tragic murder of MP Jo Cox. These events are often entirely incomprehensible: but human beings have a natural inclination to seek explanations. In the absence of any obvious explanation it is only natural to look for scapegoats. We resort to a sense of “the other”. People who commit these dastardly acts are seen as evil, fanatics or…….even mentally ill. People who commit incomprehensible acts are seen as not the same as you and me. In the past they may have been denounced as witches. Similar attitudes have been displayed towards homosexuals and Jews and we all know where that led. Two hundred years ago those doctors who worked with the mentally ill were referred to as “alienists”. It is very easy to see people who commit acts that we don’t understand as mentally ill. “It was a crazy act: they must have been mad!” But mentally ill people are no more likely to commit serious assaults than average. Indeed, they are much more likely to be the victims of violence.
The tendency of the press to report to stereotypes in these situations seems lazy. It further stigmatises people who are already stigmatised enough in their work and in their communities. . With mental health problems prevalent in the general population to the level of 25% it sounds as if that stigma may apply to you, me or someone you know. So the next time you are confronted with an act of violence that seems incomprehensible, think carefully before resorting to those stereotypes. Acts of violence are usually understandable. After all, they are usually committed by people just like you and me.
Dr John Wilkins, Consultant Psychiatrist commented on the article https://www.theguardian.com/science/brain-flapping/2016/jun/21/stop-blaming-mental-illness-for-violent-crimes