I read the news that Anders Behring Brevik has been declared 'sane', with a sense of relief for those who will now see the man punished for the despicable crimes, which he committed with malice and prior forethought. I also had a sense of triumph for those fighting the stigma and misunderstandings surrounding mental illness.
Back when the case was first covered in the media and headlines of 'Mad', 'Insane', 'Schizophrenic' and 'Psycho', were being banded around in a bid to sensationalise and sell papers, I wrote a piece on Anders Breivik, evil and mental illness. The piece was met with strong reaction on both sides, but now I feel this ruling goes a long way to disprove the common misconception that those who commit heinous crimes must be 'mentally ill'.
The facts taken from my initial writing as sited above speak for themselves:
- 5-12% of violent crime is committed by those with a diagnosable mental health condition, while 15% of the population are suffering mental illness at any one time.
- Those who are mentally ill are far more likely to harm themselves than anyone else
- People with mental illness are more likely to be the victim of a violent crime than the perpetrator.
- Evil is not a characteristic or symptom of mental illness
As well as this decision separating such evil acts from those who suffer with the affliction of mental ill-health, I also believe that a man who has committed such an evil crime should be punished as such and not treated with the care of mental health services, that so many genuinely mentally ill (and crime free) human beings are denied, in this time of austerity.
At the time of the initial hearing, Dr. Simon Wessely, of the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, stated: "Everyone's first assumption is that Breivik must be insane because he's done such terrible things, but it doesn't automatically follow that he must be mad just because what he has done is inexplicable."
Wessely also said of Breivik's acts: "It doesn't tally with the kinds of disorganised crimes usually committed by people with mental health problems."
When we hear of such evil deeds it is within our nature to dehumanise and wish to separate the perpetrator from our 'rational' and 'sane' selves, but it is my hope that this ruling will go a small way towards the media and the community, automatically jumping to speculation about the mental state of criminals.
All facts, figures and original quotes taken from www.mentalhealthy.co.uk and reprinted with permission.