A majority of people radicalized to hold extremist views needed mental health services that they hadn’t previously received, research in Canada finds.
Ottawa brings home and reintegrates women detained in Syria after travelling to join the Islamic State. At the same time, a surge in far-right movements has become a top concern for Canadian national security.
The new study in the International Journal of Forensic Mental Health calls for more specialized services to assess and treat radicalized individuals with mental health disorders who may be vulnerable and who may express their distress through violent behavior.
McGill University professor Cécile Rousseau is part of the Polarization Team in Quebec, a specialized clinical group addressing violent extremism attached to the the Integrated Health and Social Services University Network for West-Central Montreal (CIUSSS West-Central Montreal).
The study, which included over 150 radicalized individuals referred to the Polarization Team, shows that a majority of extremist individuals needed mental health services but often failed to receive them because they were distrustful of the system or because primary care providers felt unequipped to deal with them.
The association between violent extremism and mental health disorders raises specific challenges for security agencies and clinical services, say the researchers. However, the researchers warn their findings should not be interpreted as evidence that those with mental health disorders are more likely to be attracted to violent extremism.
“This assumption, which can stigmatize patients with mental disorders, is not supported by the findings, which only show there’s a sizable group of individuals with extremist views and mental health disorders that are in need of services and social reintegration programs,” says Rousseau.
According to the team, the findings suggest that extremist ideas circulating in our society may be inspiring distress and behaviors in individuals with specific mental health disorders who may be vulnerable to becoming radicalized. This is a challenge that primary care providers will have to address, they say.
Looking at trends among the group, the researchers found roughly a third of radicalized individuals were involved with far-right extremism and another third with non-ideologically based violence. Over a quarter held extremist views on gender. Most of them had some previous contact with mental health services. Over two-thirds struggled with an anxiety disorder (36.9%) or a stress-related or mood disorder (35.7%), and nearly a third had an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis (28%).
The study authors say specialized services like as the Polarization Team are important to develop knowledge and practices that can be deployed in youth and adult mental health services more broadly—and to support and guide other primary care and mental health service providers working with radicalized individuals.
Source: McGill University