Saturday, April 10, 2010

Stick to facts on mental illness


A letter to the editor published in today's edition of The Chronicle Herald:
By Aileen McGinty [pictured]

Although I have only lived in this country for nine weeks, I cannot let the March 28 letter by Elizabeth Azuya go without response. I hope the views expressed do not reflect those of the wider Canadian community.

While the incident referred to — the stabbing to death of eight children in China — is indeed a tragedy, some of the statements in the letter are inaccurate and are particularly disappointing, following on as they do from the recent focus on mental health in The Chronicle Herald.

Ms. Azuya states, "The fact that people suffering from mental illnesses are mostly the ones blamed for such offences should change the ways in which such people are treated anywhere they go." Fact: The majority of people who are violent do not suffer from a mental illness. People with mental illnesses have the same basic human rights as anyone else and they should not be treated any differently. I wonder how Ms. Azuya thinks they should be treated.

"Leaving them to wander around could turn into a huge social problem." If I presume that "them" are individuals with a mental illness, the idea that "they" all wander around causing social problems is farcical. Fact: People with mental illness are 2.5 times more likely to be victims of violence than to be perpetrators of violence.

Does Ms. Azuya realize the large numbers of "them" who are wandering around anyway? Fact: In Canada, one in five people will experience a mental illness at some time in their life. Does this mean that 20 per cent of the people in this land should somehow be seen as posing such a risk to society that the streets are unsafe to walk on, as the letter suggests?

Ms. Azuya might like to know that statistically, the incidence of mental illness is actually less in China, at 17.5 per cent, although she may be relieved she does not live in Scotland where it is 25 per cent!

The fact that the suspect in the incident in China was once a "medical worker" is irrelevant. Given the incidence of mental illness, health service providers will undoubtedly have people working for them who have experienced mental illness at some point, and quite rightly so. Is it any wonder that while some people still hold outdated ideas about mental illness, individuals may not feel comfortable sharing that information, especially within the workplace?

I did wonder if this letter was a joke, but sadly, I fear it is not. And yes, Ms. Azuya, I am one of "them," but I am also a qualified lawyer (Scottish), psychologist (U.K.), teacher (U.K.) and music therapist (Canadian). I have spent many years working in the health care sector, have a very successful career and three thriving children, so please do not be afraid that I am "coming to stab (you) to death."

Aileen McGinty lives in Hammonds Plains.

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