By Dr David Laing Dawson
In the wake of the Danforth shooting a couple of my colleagues have been quick to point out that the association between mental illness and violence is small, that most people suffering from mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of violence. They are worried about the stigma of violence attaching itself to mental illness. And of course they are right. Though one of them goes on to use those horrible euphemisms of “mental health issues” and “mental health challenges”.
Language is important as are the questions we ask.
If we expand the problem to “mental health issues” then I am sure I can rightly say that all acts of physical violence by one human against another are the products of “mental health issues”. Otherwise we will have to expand our concepts of normal and healthy to include physical violence.
And the use of such ill defined euphemisms plus our worry about stigma cause us to ask the wrong questions. Did he suffer from “mental health challenges” and “issues”? Of course he did. Is a circle round?
These are the better questions to be asked:
1. Did treatable mental illness play a role in the Danforth shooting?
(I have just read that the man in question “repeatedly cut into his face with a pencil sharpener blade” and talked of hearing voices – both symptoms of a treatable mental illness, a psychosis, probably schizophrenia)
2. If he did have such an illness why was it not being adequately treated?
(Not “supported”, “counselled”, “accommodated”, but treated)
And finally, because question 2 will always lead to imperfect answers, 3. How did he get a gun?
I have to add that while many people suffering from delusions never act on those delusions, especially if they are being treated, a very specific sign that a psychotic and delusional person will act upon a delusion (that is, attack his imagined torturers) is self injury to face or genitals.