What is the association between mental disorder and terrorism? Are mentally ill people more vulnerable to being radicalised? The media would have us believe that many acts of terrorism are perpetrated by people with mental illnesses.
Prevent is there to prevent people from becoming terrorists and supporting terrorism. Its aim is to counter terrorist ideology and challenging those who promote it. The body supports individuals who are vulnerable to becoming radicalised and working with sectors and institutions where the risk of radicalisation is high. Health is included in this definition.
Of 7,318 persons referred to Prevent, education and health were two of the biggest sources of referrals. Nine percent of those referred were from health. But what happens when people are referred to Prevent? Sadly, there is no evidence around this. Whilst an evaluation was promised, Adrian James, Registrar to the Royal College of Psychiatrists and Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist at Devon Partnership NHS Trust, told delegates at the Royal College of Psychiatrists that this was never delivered.
Too many people limit their understanding of terrorism to the threat posed by extreme Islamic groups. But what about other terrorist organisations and threats? Dr Shazad Amin, retired Consultant Psychiatrist and CEO of Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND), argues that Prevent is inherently anti-Muslim in its approach. Further, what of the strength of the evidence base? Questionable at the very least, Dr Amin suggests.
Lone-actor terrorism and mental health
The incidence of mental disorder in lone-actor terrorists (40%) is far greater than the incidence in group actors, solo (yet directed) actors and lone dyadic terrorists. Research by Dr Paul Gill indicates that amongst ISIS-inspired lone actor terrorists, schizophrenia and delusional disorder are the most likely diagnoses amongst the mentally disordered group. Mental health problems may be the precursor to other criminal behaviours and to social isolation. Mental health problems may also compound other stressors. However, mental disorders may be present yet play no role in the commission of an individual’s terrorist acts. When mental disorders do play a role, the disorder may hinder purportive planning, which would be a risk factor for radicalisation but could be protective risk factor for terrorism. Mental illness may also be a by-product of terrorist engagement. There is some indication to suggest that those with mental disorders may be overlooked by terrorist recruiters.
The strong association between radicalisation/terrorism and mental disorder means that the issue of mental disorder may arise in the prosecution of those charged with terrorism-related offences. Expert Court Reports can provide timely and informative expert evidence. Our experts have experience of assessing those charged with acts of terrorism and other terrorist-related offences. If you want to discuss instructing one of our experts, please get contact us to discuss.