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Justifying terrorism as a result of mental health problems fuels stigma

Showing terrorist acts as a result of some mental illness, as is commonly done, unfairly stigmatises the millions of people who suffer from such health problems and impedes prevention efforts, warn scientists.

sex and relationships Updated: Sep 19, 2016 12:19 IST
PTI
According to researchers, no single diagnosis is associated with “lone actor” terrorism, and a psychiatric diagnosis where appropriate does not explain motivation behind such acts.
According to researchers, no single diagnosis is associated with “lone actor” terrorism, and a psychiatric diagnosis where appropriate does not explain motivation behind such acts.(Shutterstock)

Showing terrorist acts as a result of some mental illness, as is commonly done, unfairly stigmatises the millions of people who suffer from such health problems and impedes prevention efforts, warn scientists.

Researchers said that terrorist groups and networks seem to avoid recruiting people with mental health problems, “probably because they share some of the same stigmatised views as the rest of society and see people with mental health conditions as unreliable, difficult to train, and a security threat.”

Recent attention has shifted to “lone actor” terrorism, in which mental illnesses are more common, they said.

However, they point out that no single diagnosis is associated with “lone actor” terrorism, and that a psychiatric diagnosis where appropriate does not explain motivation.

Kamaldeep Bhui of London School of Medicine and Dentistry and colleagues call for careful media reporting of terrorist events, similar to the reporting of suicides, to reduce copycat episodes.

Researchers said that many health practitioners are concerned about the government’s counterterrorism strategy, which outlines a public duty to assess, report and prevent radicalisation if this may lead to extremist violence.

They point to a lack of transparency which means there is a “paucity of published evidence” for the effectiveness of the programme.

Psychiatrists are not in the role to deal with extremism, but are there to help those with mental health problems, say researchers. (Shutterstock)

This undermines trust and has alarmed many health practitioners, “who are concerned about acting as agents of the state.”

Wessely said that the single best thing we can do to improve services, is make it easier for people to be referred, improve treatments that they get — that will improve mental health — and may also reduce risk to the public of these extremest acts.

He added that psychiatrists are not in the role to deal with extremism, but are there to help those with mental health problems.

“An effective counterterrorism strategy, which is in all our interests, will be more successful if it engages fully with mental health professionals, public health agencies, and communities, making the research evidence and recommended actions as transparent as possible without undermining genuine security concerns,” researchers said.

The study was published in The BMJ journal.

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