The man who shot and killed a Canadian soldier at Canada’s National War Memorial and manned an assault on Parliament Hill on October 22nd was not a part of a well-resourced terrorist organization but instead suffered from untreated mental illness and addiction.
In spite of his recurring attempts to get treatment in jail by committing robberies, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau was refused incarceration when he pleaded with the judge for it. He was briefly detained under British Columbia’s Mental Health Act but then later released. The court psychiatrist determined that “although he seems to be making an unusual choice, this is insufficient basis for a diagnosis of a mental disorder.”
It is a national disgrace that a person who suffers from a brain disorder has to commit a crime—in this case, a murder—to try to receive treatment. And he asked for treatment in jail because there was no available treatment in a mental health facility. This year the Correctional Investigator for Canada, Howard Sapers, called prison conditions for the mentally ill “grossly inadequate.” Due to lack of proper facilities and personnel, these prisoners are being warehoused in solitary confinement, which as research shows, only exacerbates the symptoms of mental illness.
One in five Canadians is coping with a problem involving mental health or addiction. This means that within a generation, 8.9 million Canadians and their families will be living with a mental illness. The economic burden of mental illness in Canada is more than $50 billion per year. In Ontario, the disease burden of mental illness and addiction is one and a half times greater than all cancers put together and seven times more than all infectious diseases.
Canada is not alone in under-treating mental illness and addiction. In the United States, according to SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) about 42.5 million American Adults (or 18.2% of the total adult population) suffers from a mental illness, such as depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
About 9.3 million adults or 4% of those Americans ages 18 and up, experience “serious mental illness”, where their condition impedes day-to-day activities such as going to work. This explains why so many mentally ill citizens live in poverty. As many as two thirds of homeless people report that they are also dealing with a mental illness.
How many shootings by people who suffer from a brain disorder do we need before we develop a system that gives people the services they need?