A senior Viennese mental health expert has expressed his concern at the speed with which the media leaps to blame high-profile attacks across Europe on mental health issues, remarking those suffering from genuine conditions should not be “lumped together with criminals”.
Chief doctor at the leading Vienna Social-Psychiatric Clinic and vice president of the Austrian Society of Psychiatry, Dr. Georg Psota, is a respected name in mental health in central European Austria. Speaking to the nation’s best-selling newspaper Kronen Zeitung he has said that “too often and too quickly atrocities and the frequently perpetrated attacks in Europe are mixed with mental illness”.
Clearly concerned at the very negative press for genuine mental health patients the several recent attacks may have generated, the psychiatrist said: “The acts of political extremists and religious fanatics are not the result of depression or other mental illness, but of the highest criminal energy.”
The Austrian newspaper featured a number of examples of recent attacks where, rightly or wrongly, mental health has been cited as a likely cause very quickly after the event including Wednesday’s stabbing in London, an axe attack by an Afghan migrant in Wurzburg, Germany, and the ram-raid attack in Nice that killed 84.
The comments of Dr. Psota were backed by the chairman of Austrian mental health and human rights charity Ganznormal Christian Deutsch. He remarked: “Attacks by terrorists have achieved their goal of spreading fear and loathing in Europe. It happened primarily due to fanatical criminal energy and terrorist strategy. This [motivation] should be kept strictly separate from the possible mental illness of the offender.
“On one hand, it is not easy to explain the cruel acts by [terrorists], but on the other hand, the many thousands of mentally ill people should not be lumped together with criminals to be stigmatised together.”
A statement from the charity read: “Terrorist bombers are frequently presented as being affected by mental illness, leading to a stigmatisation of mentally ill people. And this stigma makes it even harder for those who need help to benefit from it…We therefore call for acts of terrorism and acts of violence to be seen for what they are, namely expressions of aggressive criminal energy.”