Is Mental Illness a Free Pass?

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Last month a Toronto man was charged with online stalking (including threats and harassment), but will serve no jail time. His defense: mental illness.

In early December, after Metro’s initial story was published and before he was arrested, Sopinka contacted Metro and wrote that he had gone off his medication for the past year, but checked into a hospital after the story came out. He said his mental health had affected his decisions.

“Most communication with Bruno, save for the last week, has been done while I was in a “down” mood and wanting her to feel the anguish I felt at the time. This is why any comments about rape or her brother occurred, as those are particular emotional pain points for any human,” he wrote.

I understand why someone who suffers from a serious mental illness would be put into a mental institution instead of prison. I can also understand why someone suffering a break from reality would be spared the same fate as someone whose actions were intentional. The basis of these decisions is usually whether or not the person was aware that what they were doing was wrong. But have we gotten to a point were we will use any excuse to avoid taking responsibility for our actions?

I sympathize with the convicted man who claims to suffer from severe depression. I know what it’s like to feel alone and desperate for something, anything to shake you out of your stupor. But at no point did I want “someone else to feel the same.” When I was depressed I said many things I didn’t mean. I said many things I regretted. I lost friends due to my apathy and lack of compassion. However, all of these things were impulsive mistakes that I said or did in my darkest moments. I never thought out carefully worded attacks on other people.

One message was sent from a profile set up in the name of her brother, who had recently committed suicide, with a profile picture that depicted the method her brother had used to end his life. The message said: “Maybe if you weren’t such a bitch your brother wouldn’t have killed himself.”

Maybe this man is depressed, but what if his depression has nothing to do with his disturbing messages. Jut because a mental illness is present doesn’t mean it can be blamed for every bad behaviour.  The fact that this man admitted himself into a hospital after the story broke and he knew he was going to be arrested, suggests to me that he was trying to hide behind his mental illness.

Those who suffer already deal with stigma and misunderstanding, we don’t need people like this muddying the waters even more.

One of the victims, Vanessa Bruno, said she was “OK” with the verdict, but sad that his lawyer used Sopinka’s depression as an excuse or explanation for his behaviour — especially considering widespread misunderstanding of mental illness by the public.

“The suggestion that someone suffering from depression would go out of their way to harass and threaten someone is ridiculous and offensive and just not true,” she said.

The judge said that accepting the joint offer the laywers submitted was a “close call” due to the severity of the crimes, but by accepting it she created a precedent. Are we heading towards a world where having a mental illness is a free pass?

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