Sunday, 6 December 2015

Political violence and mental health

A brief note in the context of the recent Leytonstone stabbing (5/12/15): commentary on social media predictably has started to suggest that the perpetrator may have had 'mental health issues' (to use a common example of the terms used). This is not helpful and further stigmatises people with mental health problems. Most people with mental health problems do not commit violent crime. People who offend in general might indeed have some sort of personality disorder (as the prison statistics show) or substance misuse problem but the effect of these specific mental disorders in the relevant circumstances is usually just disinhibition of behaviour, disruption of emotional regulation and a reduction in the threshold for aggression, and this may be true even where psychotic or affective disorders are a factor.

However the motivations and thought processes that engendered the hostility in the first place may well be subjectively rational when viewed from particular political or religious viewpoints. It is dangerous therefore to conflate the 'mental health' aspect with the 'motivational' aspect of these events and simply write perpetrators off as being 'mentally ill' . Most homicides result in convictions of murder and punishment with custodial sentences, rather than diminished responsibility manslaughter verdicts and psychiatric hospital disposals. It is dangerous to take a view where people who disagree with government policies or have strong religious/political views and react aggressively are deemed 'mentally unwell' or 'delusional' in a broad sense, as if this is enough to entirely account for the violent behaviour. It might be convenient but it will not solve the problem, and mental health input will not change a lifetime of religio-political indoctrination, marginalisation, social disenfranchisement, disagreement with foreign policy, perceived victimisation or whatever else it is that contributes to the attitudes behind the behaviour.