The180·The 180

OPINION: Mental illness does not equal violence

Mental health advocate Casey Bennett is dismayed at some of the media reports on the shooting in Orlando, Florida. She explains why it's dangerous to quickly link murder to mental health.
Law enforcement officers speak with media on June 12, 2016 in Orlando, Florida, after the mass shooting and killing of 49 people. The suspected shooter, Omar Mateen, was shot and killed by police. (Gerardo Mora/Getty Images)

Police, media, and politicians, are trying to determine the motivation of the man who walked into a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and shot and killed 49 people.

Immediately after the killings, politicians like Donald Trump, along with the terrorist group ISIS, were quick to claim the killings as an attack from an Islamic extremist. But others told the story of an angry man, whose understanding of terrorist groups was contradictory; who may have hated LGBTQ people, yet frequented an LGBTQ nightclub.  Many wonder how the shooter was able to own a semi-automatic military-inspired rifle. His ex-wife described him as 'bi-polar.'

It was that last detail that inspired several news headlines, connecting the killer's actions with mental health. Headlines like 'Orlando shooter was bipolar, 'mentally unstable', says ex-wife,' 'Orlando shooter was body builder, reportedly bipolar,' and 'Orlando Shooter's Imam Blames Mental Illness.'

Casey Bennett is a mental health advocate in Toronto. She's lived with mental illness, including depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder, and severe mood wings. In this audio essay, she explains why she thinks its dangerous for the media to immediately link acts of horrific violence, to mental illness. 

I've never felt compelled to walk into a gay nightclub and murder 49 people in cold blood. The pervasive myth that mental illness is closely associated with bloodshed is a damaging one. It unfairly stigmatizes the mentally ill as violent and dangerous — labels that prevent sufferers from seeking help.- Casey Bennett, Canadian mental health advocate

Click the PLAY button above to hear the full essay.