I don’t know if this made the news world wide or just in Canada. I rarely watch it but I did watch some of this. When I first heard about it my first thought was how long before mental illness became a part of the conversation. I would have to say that I have been very impressed with the news coverage and how it has been dealt with. With the limelight on the victims and our humble Canadian pride…
By Lori Spadorcia, Vice President, Communications and Partnerships at CAMH
When the news came across the twitterverse, I was in an Executive Leadership Team meeting. It seemed unreal for Canada but soon after the emails started to file in one by one – subject line: “I’m ok, in lockdown but safe”. Several of my former colleagues and friends were keeping in touch – no doubt also hoping to receive information from the outside to understand the situation around them. I worked on Parliament Hill for a decade – it was an absolute privilege and it still feels like a home to me. In fact, I remember being in those exact hallways during another horrific event – 9/11.
Ironically, I was to attend an event that afternoon with the Prime Minister and Malala Yousafzai on her first visit to Canada – Malala herself a symbol of the global fight against terrorism.
The video continued to replay the gunman running down the “Hall of Honour” – a hallway I’ve walked a million times over. And, just down the street, the War Memorial, home of the tomb of the Unknown Soldier – instantly turned into a place of a present-day fallen soldier.
That evening a group of us got together to watch the news unfold. It seemed safer in numbers. It didn’t take long for views to surface and conclusions to be drawn. Being in the mental health world, I was hoping aloud that this was not another story about someone with mental illness. Those of the Muslim faith were hoping it was not another act of terrorism in the name of Islam. It was a stark lesson in how easily we discriminate, marginalize and generalize populations.
A rather uncomfortable discussion ensued as people struggled for an explanation. “Surely someone of sound mind couldn’t do something so heinous”, “clearly he didn’t get the help he needed for his addictions and this was a desperate act”, “is it possible for humans to just be bad without being mentally ill?”
Since the deadly attacks on soldiers in Ottawa and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., there has been much discussion about the mental health of the attackers and the broader societal challenge posed by disenfranchised young men.
What we know is that Martin Couture-Rouleau ran down and killed Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and injured another military man with his car before being shot dead by police. Michael Zehaf-Bibeau killed Corporal Nathan Cirillo at the National War Memorial before storming Parliament; he too was shot dead by authorities.
What we don’t know is whether either man was mentally ill. Despite the speculation of family and friends and countless commentators, we will never know; you can’t diagnose mental illness postmortem.
Besides, does it really matter?