Subscribe to our free weekly newsletter
Send news

News tags

mental health  physical activity  earthquake  vacancies  families  public health  children  funding  poverty  health determinants  social  Community development  planning  employment  healthy cities  volunteers  newsletter  youth  volunteering  nutrition  employment opportunity  housing  alcohol and drugs  maori  community engagement  rebuilding  wellbeing  disabilities  Lectures  counselling  Training  earthquake recovery  sustainability  event  community gardens  Community  seminar  Awards  stress  Community Groups  mens health  research  arts  smokefree  culture  men  exercise  migrants  community event  education  environment  resilience  human rights  health  medical  business  sport  conferences  survey  mental wellbeing  Courses  obesity  elderly  support group  environmental health  healthy food  health promotion  violence  pacific health  resources  rebuild  women  race relations  meeting  gardens  workshop  services  leadership  forum  water  disabled  repair  transport  prevention  pacific  dance  fundraising  asian health  sexual health  inequality  cancer  support  disasters  development  mindfulness  dementia  presentation  collaboration  health in all policies  data analysis  recovery  smoking  law  drugs and alcohol  technology  safety  cycling  Sleep  policy  parenting  media  hearing  walking  land  neighbours  social justice  qualification  resilient cities  information  community connection  consultation  oral health  bullying  depression  youth empowerment  young people  activities  non-profit  charity  harm  NURSES  addiction  disease  Communication  alcohol  symposium  submission  anxiety  accessibility  Relationships  eating  economics  Advocacy  eLearning  falls  parking  energy  efficiency  heating  insulation  advice  Eating Disorders  abuse  waste  Matariki  webinar  diabetes  workplace  Film  Climate Change  solutions  urban  management  economy  plan  restoration  Report  Vulnerability  welfare  parks  learning  awareness  emergencies  legislation  injury prevention  reading  Meeting Room  conservation  language  refugees  recreation  built environment  data  venue  urban design  Food  older people  finances  suicide  heritage  gender  recycling  breastfeeding  public  identity  Nursing  submissions  Rainbow  biodiversity  campaign  promotion  Gut Health  diversity  therapy  older adults  sexuality  computing  pollution  School Holidays  Arts Therapy  providers  gambling  Maori health  Cervical cancer  screening  trauma  autism  Governance  treaty of waitangi  care  mentoring  pets  relaxation  Professional Development  pornography  exhibition  history  discrimination  vaping  equity  lockdown  grief  rural  hygiene  participation  tourism  summer  intervention  warning  podcast  science  petition  swimming  roadworks  traffic  wildlife  beaches  pools  immunisation  vaccination  brain  preparation  open day  market  evaluation 

Statement from the Mental Health Foundation: Extremism is not a mental illness

Thursday, March 21, 2019   Posted in: Signatory Notice Board By: Administrator With tags: mental health, suicide, race relations, discrimination

Mental Health Foundation media release: 20th March 2019

Following Friday’s appalling terrorist attack, many people have speculated that the terrorist must have been mentally ill. We understand why it’s comforting to think this. We all want to think the terrorist is an outlier, an outsider, different to us. We want to try and understand this incomprehensible tragedy, to find a simple answer that helps to explain what happened, to make sense of the shooting.

But this answer is nothing but a fiction, and it’s one we must not hide behind if we are to heal from Friday’s terrible events. Shooting people is not a symptom of a mental illness. White supremacy is not a mental illness. When we talk about mental illness in relation to these kinds of attacks, most of us aren’t talking about the facts of mental distress; that it is an experience more than half of us will share and a sign that someone needs help and support. Instead, we’re using “mentally ill” as a short-hand for “violent” and “threatening” and “a risk to the community.” This is deeply troubling. 

The terrorist is clearly an extremist, but it is an unfair leap to assume we can blame mental illness for his actions. 

If we let mental illness be the scapegoat here, we let ourselves and our country off the hook from reckoning with the racism, white supremacy and anti-immigrant sentiments that directly led to these attacks. We distance ourselves from the terrorist and let ourselves dismiss him as a ‘lone wolf’. We sigh with relief that he’s been arrested and is unable to do further harm without acknowledging there are others who share his ideology who will continue to live and work amongst us and make life difficult for immigrants and minorities. We fail to listen to the voices of the Muslim community and their daily experiences of prejudice and abuse. We avoid doing the hard and painful work required to examine the deeply-rooted racist ideologies, beliefs and behaviours that can be found everywhere in New Zealand. We fail to look at how we personally excuse or condone racism by our actions or our inaction.

People who live with serious mental health issues in New Zealand are already some of our most vulnerable people. Frequently the recipients of prejudice and discrimination, they continue to be misunderstood and incorrectly blamed for a disproportionate amount of violence in our communities. We say this so often that it starts to sound like white noise, but we think it bears repeating now: people with mental illness are far more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators of violence – in fact fourteen times more likely to be victims of violence than the average Kiwi.

When you connect radical extremists with mental illness, you make it even harder for  people with mental health issues to live in their own homes as members of their own communities. You make it harder for them to ask for help. You reinforce myths that they are violent and different, untrustworthy and unreliable. And you do it to make yourself feel better, not because it’s the truth.

Trauma has been inflicted once again on Christchurch and especially on the Muslim community. So many people who fled violence and extremism were killed or hurt or had to watch others die. It is impossible for this not to have an effect on our mental health – particularly for those who were directly impacted. Everyone affected will need all our support and love in the days, weeks and months to come. We can all play a role in supporting each other to get through. It is vital that the support offered to the Muslim community is culturally appropriate and informed.

There is, however, a connection between this event and mental distress that doesn’t get much airtime, and this connection is why, if you’re wondering, the Mental Health Foundation is speaking out about the wider issues of racism and white supremacy.

The connection is this: being on the receiving end of racism, discrimination, exclusion and bullying are all risk factors for mental distress. They all contribute to suicide.

New Zealanders have increasingly committed to taking mental health seriously, to making sure that people who live with mental health problems get the support they need to recover and live full lives. We have also been talking more and more about suicide prevention and what we can do to reduce New Zealand’s suicide numbers. 

Here’s one thing we can do: give nothing to racism. We cannot and will not see fewer people experiencing mental illness or a reduced suicide rate unless we do something about racism and discrimination. Until people feel able to be their whole selves, express their identity, faith and culture without judgement, fear or discrimination.

New Zealand cannot hide from the fact that there have been many Kiwis who have felt comfortable publicly and privately declaring mistrust and contempt toward Muslims, immigrants and other people different to them. Casual racism emboldens extremists and puts minorities at risk. The burden this places on their mental health cannot be overstated.

We add our voices to those of most New Zealanders who feel deep sadness and anger about these terrorist attacks. We know many of us are already reflecting on how we can help, how we can keep our communities safe, how we can embrace diversity and stop anything like this from ever happening again.

We all have some hard work to do to ensure the New Zealand Muslim community is safe here now and in the future. We have to be brave enough to confront racist behaviour, words and ideologies and we have to start changing hearts and minds to create a more inclusive and accepting society where everyone can enjoy good mental health and wellbeing. Some of us have more work to do than others but we all have a role to play. We believe New Zealand is up to the challenge.