An "automatic assumption" to link terrorist acts with mental illness stigmatizes people with mental health problems and impedes prevention efforts, says a study conducted by an Indian-origin researcher.
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In the study published in the journal BMJ, researchers explained that terrorist groups and networks seem to avoid recruiting people with mental health problems, probably because they share some of the same stigmatised views as the rest of society and see people with mental health conditions as unreliable, difficult to train, and a security threat.
Recent attention has shifted to "lone actor" terrorism, in which mental illnesses are more common, and they pointed out that no single diagnosis is associated with "lone actor" terrorism.
They reported that many health practitioners are concerned about the government's counterterrorism strategy, which outlines a public duty to assess, report, and prevent radicalization if this may lead to extremist violence.
"There is a lack of transparency which means there is a paucity of published evidence for the effectiveness of the program. This undermines trust and has alarmed many health practitioners, who are concerned about acting as agents of the state," said Kamaldeep Bhui, Professor at the Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry.
"We should follow the example of the Royal Colleges by drafting sensible and voluntary guidelines for media reporting of terrorist events, similar to those developed for the reporting of suicide," said Simon Wessely, Professor at the King's College London.
These should include guidance on not glamorizing events or the perpetrator, and not focusing on methods or details, to avoid copycat incidents.
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An effective counterterrorism strategy, which is in all our interests, will be more successful if it engages fully with mental health professionals, public health agencies, and communities, making the research evidence and recommended actions as transparent as possible without undermining genuine security concerns, the study suggested.