Anders Behring Breivik trial stirs sensationalist media coverage of mental illness
By Charlotte Fantelli
Every day it seems another headline speculates as to the mental state of the Norwegian serial killer Anders Behring Breivik. From personality disorders to schizophrenia, every reporter now seems to be a psychiatrist, as each seeks to out do another in a bid to sell more papers. In the wake of yet more damning media coverage lies the real people with mental illness, once again being let down by association with acts of pure evil.
The fact is, one psychiatric report declares Breivik insane, while another declares he does not have a mental illness. Anders himself stands by the fact he does NOT have a mental illness and he states the report that insists he is mentally ill is based on "evil fabrications" meant to portray him as 'irrational and unintelligent'.
I am not going to begin to psychoanalyse the man; I am in neither a qualified position to do so, nor in possession of his medical records (a similar position to most reporters). However, I was incredibly interested in the coverage in the Washington Post, which cited Dr. Simon Wessely, of the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, who seems to conclude the atrocious actions were not committed by a man with mental illness.
“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 states.
Sadly it is very often the case, when those in society want to separate themselves from sickening crimes, it is easier for them to speculate 'madness' rather than accepting a man with no mental illness can simply be evil and capable of such crimes.
When asked his opinion regarding the organised and methodical nature of Breivik's mass murder, Wessely said “It doesn’t tally with the kinds of disorganised crimes usually committed by people with mental health problems.”
Whether Anders Behring Breivik is declared mentally ill or not is yet to be determined by a jury, his sentence will be adjusted depending on this finding, however, whatever the verdict, what this case has done, is yet again associate the existence of evil with mental illness; a stigmatising and utterly harmful association that has no useful place in the media.
I will finish this report by stating facts regarding mental illness and violent crime:
- Only 5-12% of violent crime is committed by those with mental illness
- 15% of the population have a diagnosable mental illness at any one time
- A person with mental illness is more likely to be a victim of violent crime than a perpetrator
- A person with mental illness is more likely to harm themselves than others
- Evil is NOT a characteristic of mental illness
The sort of media coverage that speculates otherwise, sets mental health back hugely and wrongly associates a myriad of conditions with evil acts of atrocity. I for one am totally sick of it, please share this if you are too.
See here for more facts on mental illness and crime
Photograph taken from the front page of the New York Daily News.