Mental Health Foundation: Terrorist ideologies are not symptoms of mental illness

Terrorist ideologies are not symptoms of any mental illness. It’s as simple as that.
Found in: News / Statements
Date: 5 September 2021

Terrorist ideologies are not symptoms of any mental illness.

It’s as simple as that.

We have to be clear and direct here, because many conversations around Friday’s attack are dipping into dangerously stigmatising territory, and that is deeply concerning to us. Nearly half of us will experience a mental illness in our lifetimes, and people experiencing severe mental illness are listening – right now – to how you talk about their symptoms and experiences, and we know many of them are feeling discouraged, isolated and like they will never truly ‘belong’. And we cannot let that stand.

The man who committed Friday’s attacks experienced mental illness and he experienced a lot of trauma. However, he did not meet the criteria to be involuntarily assessed under the Mental Health Act, and he did not meet the criteria to be sectioned under the Act, so it seems his beliefs were separate to any mental distress he may have experienced, and this is important to remember.

He was a person who had extreme, ideological beliefs, who also happened to experience mental illness. Both things can be true.

A bit more about the Mental Health Act: we’re disappointed in the discussion around it and how officials tried to use it. The Mental Health Act is a piece of healthcare legislation. It is not, and never will be, a stopgap to plug holes in the criminal law.

It should only ever be used to provide help to people who desperately need mental healthcare.

It should never – ever – be used punitively. Mental health support is not a punishment. It’s a human right. Think, really carefully, about what you’re saying when you imply otherwise.

If the criminal law isn’t appropriate to keep our community safe from a terrorist then that’s what needs to change – the mental health system never can and never should be responsible for that.

In the same way we must all be absolutely clear this individual’s actions reflect only on him and not on any culture, religion or nationality, we must also be crystal-clear they do not reflect on any other person who lives with mental illness.

We cannot allow this person’s terrible actions to become an excuse to allow the Mental Health Act to become more coercive or more punitive.

We cannot allow what he did to sow seeds of fear that the people we know who live with mental illness might secretly want to hurt us, because the truth is they are far more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators.

We know many people are still feeling angry and frightened and want reassurance that they and their whānau are safe. These feelings are human and understandable, and we encourage you to reach out to trusted friends, whānau and loved ones and for comfort and support (helplines and professionals are also always great options).

Aotearoa New Zealand has come such a long way to removing the prejudice and discrimination associated with mental illness. We must not allow Friday’s events to undo all this hard work. We send our aroha and awhi to all those affected by Friday’s attacks. 

He aha te mea nui te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. 

What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people.