Published on June 15th, 2016 | from CAMH

#StopTheHate and show acceptance and understanding

By Dr. Katy Kamkar, Clinical Psychologist, Work, Stress and Health Program

Katy-KamkarLast weekend, 49 people were killed and more than 50 others were wounded after a gunman opened fire at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

Anxiety, fear, post-traumatic stress symptoms, depression, grief and anger are typical reactions following traumatic events such as this. Often, the first question following trauma is “why?” Why would someone do such a thing?

And then, as more information is released, people’s reactions move from sadness to anger, and their thoughts tend to move from the why, towards the question of “who?”

Who would do this? Was it an act of terrorism? Of homophobic hatred? Is it a sign of mental illness? This was unfortunately a part of the narrative behind the story as it unfolded.

Although some progress has been made towards acceptance and tolerance, more work needs to be done around promoting understanding, so that we don’t mistakenly target the wrong people.

Was the shooter mentally ill? Perhaps – it’s not for me to say, and going down that line of “what ifs” can be hurtful and damaging for the millions who struggle with mental illness.

It is extremely important to revisit one of the biggest myths around mental illness: “people with mental illness are violent or dangerous”. It is human nature to want to predict violence so that we feel safer and more in control, and in turn, can avoid violence. However, doing this can start a dangerous precedent for people who are dealing with their mental health concerns, and may already be marginalized, traumatized and suffering. Focusing our efforts on the wrong cause will not solve the problem, and can compound the suffering and self-isolation that people may already be experiencing.

The stats show that one-in-five individuals suffer from mental illness. We are all impacted directly or indirectly.

The Canadian Mental Health Association has outlined research that mental illness is NOT a good predictor of violence.

Exclusion from communities, closed-minded ways of thinking, ignorance that breeds hate – it’s some of those beliefs, and not mental illness that is associated with violence, and we need to be vigilant around signs of this form of extremism. Amidst that tragedy, we need to regroup and identify misguided beliefs about others, and potentially correct these notions.

We also need to be mindful that people who suffer from mental illness are significantly more likely to be victims of violence than causing violence.

So when the inevitable question of “why?” leads you or your friends into a question of “who?”, it’s important that instead of assigning blame, we understand instead “how” we can avoid judging others and prevent further hatred or ignorance.

Our hearts, thoughts and prayers are with our brothers and sisters within the LGBTQ community and to all the victims and family of those who were lost or injured.

Safety is on everyone’s minds as the upcoming Toronto Pride Parade approaches. Toronto Police and the RCMP indicated that they will boost Pride security.

Many of us are proudly attending the Pride Parade. When we are all together in pride and show our love, solidarity, support, acceptance and understanding, we give ourselves the best chance at reducing and eliminating these evil and hateful acts.

#loveislove rainbowheart

You can follow Dr. Kamkar on Twitter at @DrKatyKamkar

Photo courtesy of Fibonacci Blue on Flickr

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