A woman writes a message on a makeshift memorial remembering the victims of a shooting on Sunday evening on Danforth Avenue, in Toronto on Tuesday, July 24, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch

Psychiatric body warns against stigmatizing mentally ill after Toronto shooting

Faisal Hussain killed two people and injured 13 when he unleashed a hail of bullets along Toronto’s Danforth Avenue

The man responsible for a deadly shooting in the heart of Toronto’s Greektown may have struggled with mental illness, but the body representing the country’s psychiatrists cautioned that tying his psychiatric history with his recent actions risks stigmatizing those contending with similar issues.

Faisal Hussain killed two people and injured 13 when he unleashed a hail of bullets along the city’s Danforth Avenue on Sunday night. The attack ended after he exchanged fire with two officers and was found dead nearby. Hussain’s parents have since outlined their son’s battle with depression and psychosis.

The Canadian Psychiatric Association warned Thursday that making Hussain’s mental state a focal point of discussions around the shooting misrepresents the majority of people grappling with similar circumstances and risks deepening the stigma they already face.

“The perception that mental illness carries with it a potential for violence has been proven wrong in many studies,” association president Dr. Nachiketa Sinha said in a statement. “The best risk factor for future violence is previous violence – whether one is mentally ill or not.”

Discussion of Hussain’s psychiatric struggles entered the narrative around the Danforth shooting less than a day after it came to an end.

As a shocked city was still learning about the circumstances that killed 18-year-old Reese Fallon and 10-year-old Julianna Kozis, Hussain’s family issued a statement offering a few details on their son.

RELATED: Family of Toronto shooter says he suffered from severe mental illness

The family disclosed that the 29-year-old had struggled with “severe mental health challenges” for years, adding that medication, therapy and other interventions were unsuccessful. Hussain’s parents also decried their son’s “senseless violence,” described his actions as “horrific,” and offered condolences to families of the attack’s victims.

Subsequent media reports dug deeper into Hussain’s life, publishing accounts from former teachers who shared accounts of alarming behaviour he exhibited while still in his teens.

The psychiatric association said Hussain is an outlier among mental health patients, citing several studies that challenge the link between mental illness and violent conduct.

Sinha said current research suggests people with a “major mental illness” are 2.5 times more likely to be victims of violence than other members of society.

The association also cited research from the Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health that found only a small number of violent crimes are committed by someone with a serious mental illness. Only four per cent of those convicted of homicide, the study said, were deemed not criminally responsible for their actions due to a psychiatric disorder.

Sinha said the association condemns Hussain’s actions, but said discussing them solely in the context of his mental illness risks doing other patients a disservice.

“It is critical that we do not connect the risk of violence with mental illness,” Sinha said. “It is a dangerous stigma to reinforce in a society that has come so far in acknowledging the lives, contributions and successful recovery of the many individuals impacted by mental illness.”

RELATED: No evidence linking ISIL to deadly Toronto shooting, police chief says

Fardous Hosseiny, national director of research and public policy at the Canadian Mental Health Association, echoed the association’s warning.

He said efforts to combat stigma have made a noticeable impact in recent years, prompting more people to speak openly about their struggles and seek help if needed. Conflating mental illness and violence, he cautioned, could undo much of that progress.

“What we will see as a result of this is that people will go into hiding even more,” he said. “What we’ve been trying to advocate is for them to come out and say ‘you know what? I need help. I need services and support.’ As soon as they get those supports, recovery is possible.”

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Tourism Golden re-launches “Locals Lowdown” campaign

The campaign seeks to give a face and personality to Golden to encourage tourism.

A second wave of COVID-19 is probable, if history tells us anything

B.C.’s top doctor says that what health officials have learned this round will guide response in future

Golden police seek Good Samaritan after house fire

An unidentified individual may have saved lives in the early-morning fire.

Snow expected to hit West Kootenay passes overnight on Thursday

Up to 15 cm of snow could fall on Highway 3 between Paulson summit to Kootenay Pass by Friday morning

2020 construction projects planned for Mount Revelstoke and Glacier National Park

Parks Canada said they are continuing to improve Highway 1 over Rogers Pass

Kelowna man charged with harming a hamster

The 20-year-old Kelowna man faces several animal cruelty charges

High tech fish transport system set up to ‘whoosh’ salmon past Big Bar landslide

Fish will spend roughly 20 seconds inside the system, moving at roughly 20 metres per second

Trudeau to seek 10 days of paid sick leave for Canadian workers, says talks are ongoing

Paid sick leave is key to keeping COVID-19 spread under control, prime minister says

Snowbirds jets will not be leaving Kamloops, just yet

The Snowbirds have been in Kamloops since May 17 when a plane crashed killing Capt. Jennifer Casey

COVID-19 checkpoints ‘up to them,’ Bonnie Henry says of remote B.C. villages

Support local tourism economy, but only if you’re invited in

Vancouver Island hasn’t seen a new homegrown case of COVID-19 in two weeks

Island’s low and steady transmission rate chalked up to several factors

Eight people arrested in Victoria homeless camp after enforcement order issued

Those living in tents were given until May 20 to move indoors

Andrew Weaver says he was ready to defeat John Horgan government

Independent MLA blasts B.C. Greens over LNG opposition

Most Read