Last night a fatal stabbing took place in London, near the British Museum. At the time of writing one woman has died and five other people are injured. Facts are currently unclear as Europe wakes up to another morning of contemplating violence and tragedy.
Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley has said, “Early indications suggest mental health is a significant factor in this case and that is one major line of inquiry. But of course at this stage we should keep an open mind regarding motive and consequently terrorism as a motivation remains but one line of inquiry for us to explore,”
Much work now needs to be done and our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by this tragedy directly and indirectly and to those who face the task of untangling this incident in a tense and fearful atmosphere. We must be informed, and soberly. We must care and be open.
Something that struck me, in the above sentence from Rowley, is the phrase about mental health being a significant factor. Too often we forget that mental health is always a factor. Random acts of violence are often perpetrated by those under extreme stress, who are isolated and depressed, paranoid and suffering from distortions in their perception. These factors never excuse the violent acts, but we ignore them to our detriment. What makes random acts of violence so chilling is that no random acts of violence are random. There are always roots pushing back through an undergrowth of failing communities, broken down families and fractured people.
There are no easy answers but remembering to look through a lens of mental health may offer more insight to terrifying and inexplicable acts. Just as our physical bodies are not all in perfect shape, so go our psyches. We are all in various ways isolated, confused, hurt, let down and struggling. The person who commits a random act of violence is less alien, less terrifying when we recognise they are human like us and hurting terribly. Someone who is mentally healthy does not lash out like that. This never excuses or justifies their actions, but it deepens the sadness.
As I said above, much work now needs to be done. Not just by hospitals treating the wounded and investigators establishing the facts, but by all of us. People across Europe and the world have had to face sadness after sadness. It is understandable that sadness turns to anger and confusion but sometimes the only way out of sadness is further sadness, deeper sadness. A willingness to hear and listen, watch and cry. The world is hurting, the world is traumatic. We must hear and we must listen. We must acknowledge that we all suffer from mental health issues, just as we all suffer from physical ailments. Through this sadness we must recognise one another. For that recognition can be transformative. It can be the difference between life and death.