Since the tragic events unfolded in Ottawa yesterday, everyone has become a psychiatrist, claiming that Michael Zehaf-Bibeau was everything from a whacko to deranged. But really, no one will ever know what his mental state was at the time of his horrible crime.
Today at a press conference, BC Premier Christy Clark correctly defended the Muslim community. She pointed out the obvious, that by far, most Muslims are good and peaceful people. Later in her speech, however, she claimed Zehaf-Bibeau must have been deranged – and nearly spit when she said it. At no point did she offer Mental Health Consumers the same respect and curtesy she extended BC Muslims, by pointing out that by far, most people living with mental disorders are good and peaceful people. In fact, people with mental illness are far more likely to be victims of violence than the perpetrators.
The sole psychiatric assessment that media are desperately clinging to is several years old. In it, Zehaf-Bibeau is reported by a psychiatrist to have said that he wanted to kick his crack addiction by being placed in jail. Later in the assessment, however, the psychiatrist states that he could find no evidence that Zehaf-Bibeau had a mental illness.
Even the Montreal Gazette has come out with an article entitled Radicalization and mental health: Looking for answers that relies primarily on professional guessing in retroactively diagnosing Zehaf-Bibeau.
Michael was a murderer, inspired by radical Islam, but was he mentally ill? We’ll never know. But politicians and media are once again making their living, in part, by depicting those with mental disorders as harmful to the greater community. To them I point out the obvious, that being radicalized, like Zehaf-Bibeau, is not a form of mental illness.
I work hard, as many others do, to eliminate the stigma of mental illness. But the current circus of media conjecture and political opportunism in guessing Zehaf-Bibeau’s mental condition ruins that work.