Tag Archives: murder

violence and mental illness: how should we talk about it?

earlier this week, our newspapers were full of the tragic story of clare shelswell, the little girl who was killed by her stepfather, peter wilson. on june 29, the vancouver sun devoted half of page 1 and 2 to it. on page 2, there was also an article that contained an interview with an expert related to the case.

as often happens, once the article was written and the newspaper put together, it was printed in several phases. these early versions often end up on the internet and the printed versions are distributed to outlying areas. any corrections that are made tend to end up in the vancouver printings.

as it turns out, the article on page 2 that can be found on the internet and was printed in the earlier versions reads

bipolar patients can become violent, prof says

mental health advocates, tod maffin for example, got understandably mad about it.

yup, those bipolar people. they can become violent. which probably means that half of them are violent, right? (that’s how the human brain often thinks: “can” means either yes or no, so “obviously”, there being two choices, there is a 50 per cent chance for one of the two possibilities to occur). fortunately, thanks to tod, the headline was corrected to read “bipolar patients rarely become violent, prof says” (my emphasis).

i would say, though, that the actual article that reported the killing was quite responsible. here is the excerpt that mentions that the killer had bipolar disorder:

sergi [the public defender] described wilson as “lucid” during the brief court appearance, adding his client appeared to understand the proceedings.

no formal charge has been laid. wilson earlier waived his rights under state law to be charged within 72 hours of his arrest.

his next court appearance is scheduled for july 12.

meanwhile, prosecutors are considering whether to pursue the death penalty.

sergi said an accused’s criminal history and the details of the alleged crime are key factors that must be weighed in a capital case.

sergi was uncertain how a mental illness defence might affect the death-penalty decision.

both wilson and his wife told police he suffers from bipolar disorder for which he takes medication.

what do you think? how should violence perpetrated by people with mental health issues be portrayed? for example, should the article that talks about violence and bipolar disorder have mentioned that persons with mental health issues are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators?