Srinagar: On December 23, a hamlet in Ashimuqam seemed woke up to any other frozen and bitterly cold place. However, news trickled in about a ‘mentally unstable’ person running amok committing matricide besides killing two others and injuring six in a fit of homicidal rage.
Was he actually mentally unwell?
“He was not having any serious mental health issues. Rather, his functioning was high and it was cannabis use that prompted him to indulge in the gruesome killings,” he said.
He added, social media channels without even bothering to check if he was mentally unsound or not were soon awash with interviews of the survivors and his family, who spoke of his inexplicable and sudden rage because of psychological illness.
“I would like to clear: Mentally unwell people never cause harm to others. They might indulge in self-harm but not such multiple violent incidents,” he said.
While the murder sent shockwaves through the valley, the faulty reporting of his ‘mental health condition’ has had a more serious fallout – one which experts believe will lead to further stigmatization of mental illness.
The fear of the ‘mentally ill’ has increased manifold and the reporting of the mentally ill perpetrator as a ‘dangerous outsider’ has only fed into the stereotype. It prevents people with mental illnesses from accessing safe and healthy environments and in turn, exposes them to victimization.
Mental health experts are unanimous in their opinion that such reporting will lead to a snowball effect, and their fears are not unfounded.
Professor of Psychiatry, IMHANS, Kashmir, Dr Arshid Hussain wrote on Facebook: “𝑇𝑜𝑑𝑎𝑦 𝑖𝑛 𝑜𝑢𝑟 𝑂𝑃𝐷 𝑤𝑒 𝑠𝑎𝑤 𝑔𝑙𝑖𝑚𝑝𝑠𝑒𝑠 𝑜𝑓 𝑤ℎ𝑎𝑡 𝑚𝑎𝑦 𝑏𝑒 𝑐𝑜𝑚𝑖𝑛𝑔 , 𝑎 𝑚𝑜𝑡ℎ𝑒𝑟 𝑐𝑎𝑙𝑙𝑒𝑑 𝑜𝑢𝑟 ℎ𝑜𝑠𝑝𝑖𝑡𝑎𝑙 𝑡𝑜 𝑐𝑜𝑛𝑣𝑒𝑦 𝑡ℎ𝑎𝑡 𝑠ℎ𝑒 𝑖𝑠 𝑛𝑜𝑡 𝑔𝑜𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑡𝑜 𝑡𝑎𝑘𝑒 𝑏𝑎𝑐𝑘 ℎ𝑖𝑠 𝑠𝑜𝑛 𝑤ℎ𝑜 𝑖𝑠 𝑓𝑖𝑡 𝑓𝑜𝑟 𝑑𝑖𝑠𝑐ℎ𝑎𝑟𝑔𝑒 , 𝑎𝑛 𝑒𝑥 𝑀𝐿𝐴 𝑐𝑎𝑙𝑙𝑒𝑑 𝑚𝑒 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑟𝑒𝑞𝑢𝑒𝑠𝑡𝑒𝑑 𝑓𝑜𝑟 𝑎𝑑𝑚𝑖𝑠𝑠𝑖𝑜𝑛 𝑜𝑓 a 𝑝𝑎𝑡𝑖𝑒𝑛𝑡 𝑤𝑖𝑡ℎ 𝑠𝑒𝑣𝑒𝑟𝑒 𝑚𝑒𝑛𝑡𝑎𝑙 𝑖𝑙𝑙𝑛𝑒𝑠𝑠 𝑤ℎ𝑜 𝑡𝑖𝑙𝑙 𝑛𝑜𝑤 𝑤𝑎𝑠 𝑙𝑖𝑣𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑤𝑖𝑡ℎ his 𝑓𝑎𝑚𝑖𝑙𝑦.”
Are people with mental health disorders “dangerous”? What do experts say?
Psychiatrist at IMHANS, Dr. Syed Mehvish Yaver said most of the violence in this world is because of the ‘so called’ [sane] people.
“Mental illnesses are predominantly associated with ‘self-harm’ than ‘harm to others. This event is a rare incident and is not a norm for mental illnesses. The distinguishing feature of mental illnesses is “suffering to the self”,” Although the link between mental illness, violence, and substance abuse is well established, as such abuse makes users vulnerable to act on their delusions and hallucinations. However, not all mental illness follows from substance abuse”, the doctor pointed out.
Faculty of General Adult Psychiatry (GAP), Royal College of Psychiatrists, London, Dr. Mudasir Firdosi pointed out that a large body of data suggests that people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violent crime than perpetrators.
“However, it is often thought otherwise due to various reasons. Mentally ill have little voice and are unlikely to be believed. Hence, their versions are rarely reported. Media portrayal and portrayal in popular culture like films of asylums and the ‘mad’ only adds to the paranoia around the mentally ill. There is an inherent bias against people with mental illness that extends way beyond common people to institutions like healthcare, police, and criminal justice systems,” he said.
“Certain mental disorders do exist wherein people experience symptoms like delusions and command hallucinations. They make the person feel unsafe and resort to violence”. However, they represent a tiny fraction and not the norm, he hastens to add.
What can be done for prevention?
To prevent such rare occurrences, early identification and treatment are the key. This cannot be left to the patient or their family and has to be a collective effort.
“Every institution from religious to the public has to play a role in this matter. Supporting families and offering help is the key. The stigma around mental illness and treatment is the main hindrance here. At times it is superstition and quackery which can be a problem, said Dr. Mudasir.
“Prevention and treatment of drug addiction is another key factor in preventing such unfortunate situations. This again entails the responsibility of everyone in society to help prevent drug use from law enforcement to health service,” he explained
According to the doctor, the media has a key role to play here. Unfortunately, in the recent incident, not only the general public posted videos of a vulnerable person on social media, many media outlets have reported that incident without any thought – sensationalizing it beyond reason and not throwing all ethical codes to the wind.
“Responsible reporting is the need of the hour so that people feel able to seek help and not hide further because of a toxic environment created around such cases. Naming and posting videos of a vulnerable person are no way to go and in many parts of the world is itself a criminal offence,” he said.
What do mental health laws say about it?
Legal Consultant and Coordinator at Child Guidance and Wellbeing Center-IMHANS, Syed Mujtaba said concerning mental health area, we have Mental Health Care Act 2017 in place, which mandates integration of mental health services into general healthcare services at all levels of healthcare including primary, secondary and tertiary healthcare and in all health programmes.
“The law focuses that long-term care in a mental health establishment for treatment of mental illness shall be used only in exceptional circumstances, and provides community living based treatment, half-way homes, sheltered accommodation, supported accommodation has also been mandated as a rights-based model in the mental health area.”
He said the laws are in place but the question is all about the financial portion which mental health receives out of the General Health budget. This is not more than 1.5% of the total health budget which is allocated to mental health.
“Which respect to the protection of the rights of persons with mental illnesses, the law mandates establishing Mental health review boards at each district, but we don’t have a single mental health review board here in J&K. Though, I have filed a petition at NHRC New Delhi in November for the establishment of MHR Boards, NHRC has directed Chief Secretary of J&K UT to look into the matter, as the petitioner argues that non-establishment of MHR Boards is a violation of mental health rights,” Mujtaba said