New Zealand Politicians: Many People Who Harass Us are Mentally Ill

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According to a survey published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, New Zealand elected members of parliament believe that many of the people who “harass” them with “inappropriate” communications are mentally ill.

Led by researchers at the Capital and Coast District Health Board in Wellington, the anonymous survey was sent to all 121 New Zealand elected members of parliament (MPs), and 102 (84%) responded.

“While media coverage might suggest otherwise, the small, but significantly elevated risk of violence to politicians is predominantly due not to organised terrorism or politically or criminally motivated extremists but to fixated individuals with serious untreated mental disorders,” wrote the researchers. They acknowledged that “the vast majority of people with mental illness do not harass or stalk public figures (or indeed, anyone) and, of the small fraction who do, only a minority behave violently.” However, the researchers added, “despite the small numbers, untreated mentally disordered fixated individuals can cause significant societal harm.” The authors added that, “Research into the harassment of politicians and other public figures in Northern America and Western Europe consistently demonstrates a high incidence of severe mental illness in the perpetrators.”

In their survey, the researchers found that, “Harassment was reported by 87% of respondents.” The most common types of “harassment” reported by the politicians included “inappropriate letters, faxes or emails” (68%), “inappropriate social media contact” (60%), “inappropriate telephone calls” (48%), “unwanted approaches” (50%), and “alarming behaviour at electoral office” (62%). Threats to harm were reported by 48% of the politicians, but actual or attempted physical attacks by only 15%.

“In all, 50% of MPs believed that those responsible for the most memorable harassment had a mental illness,” wrote the researchers. “29% were unsure and 21% did not believe their harassers were mentally ill.”

The article noted that, “Several MPs emphasised that although their mentally ill harassers had challenging behaviour, in the parliamentarian’s view, they did not pose a risk and had important needs.” These few politicians said that, though some of the mentally ill people had “challenging” behaviors, they were nevertheless usually “fighting for justice” and “had a real need to be taken seriously.” In addition, about half of the MPs speculated on the motivations of their harassers, and most “suggested harassers were fixated on a cause or perceived injustice…”

Every-Palmer, Susanna, Justin Barry-Walsh, and Michele Pathé. “Harassment, Stalking, Threats and Attacks Targeting New Zealand Politicians: A Mental Health Issue.” Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, May 7, 2015, 0004867415583700. doi:10.1177/0004867415583700. (Abstract)

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