Mental health sufferers need compassion, not online judgement

Richmond Foundation: ‘Mental illness does not necessarily mean violent or odd behaviour’

Mental health charity Richmond Foundation has raised a flag over the negative and pejorative comments on online comment boards and social media, in the wake of the prosecution of a 32-year-old man accused of having used animal carcasses in crucifixions displayed all over Mosta since 2011.

The Foundation said it was not referring to any particular case specifically, citing ethical reasons, although it was clear that the statement comes in the aftermath of the public reaction to the apprehending of Nicholas Grech over the mock crucifixions of animal carcasses.

“Media sensationalism, including the general public’s negative and pejorative comments on message boards and social networks, subjects the indivdual concerned to undue pressure, degrading and inhumane treatment,” Richmond spokesperson Holger Saliba said.

“Sensationlism enhances stigma towards mental illnesses, and this is counterproductive as normally persons with mental health problem are reluctant to seek professional help because they fear exclusion and embarrassment.”

Saliba said a quarter of the Maltese population experience mental health problems at any point in their life.

While the Foundation denounces any acts of cruelty that inflicted suffering on animals, the NGO said it was important to remember that any accused person is innocent until proven otherwise in a court of law. “Their inherent dignity is to be respected even when it is proven that s/he has committed cruel acts or crimes,” Saliba said.

“We are very concerned about the general public’s misperception that persons with mental health problems are likely to be unpredictable and violent towards others, including animals. In reality most persons with mental health problems are not violent or hostile towards others, enjoy the company of animals, treat animals well and such relationship is also therapeutic for the same persons. At times, animals could be the only living creatures with ‘non-judgmental attitude’ towards persons with mental illnesses.”

Police who apprehended Grech, at his parent’s house in Mosta, say the Enemalta engineer had two pet cats at home. Schembri is suspected of having collected animal carcasses and crucified them, carrying out the mock crucifixions and hanging the bodies on religious monuments in Mosta since 2011. He is being accused by the police of vilification of religion.

“In extreme cases, which normally draw media’s attention and spur sensationalism, persons may not be in their full mental capacity due to mental illness and thus commit odd or bizarre behaviour,” Saliba said. “In any case, ill persons need treatment, support and compassion.” 

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