WINNIPEG — A local mental health industry official is worried the media storm surrounding the Vince Li case will undermine efforts to successfully treat the illness for years to come.
“It really does worry me that we’re moving the whole mental health issue back 20 years,” said Nicole Shammartin, executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association of Winnipeg.
Li, 44, killed and beheaded a fellow passenger — 22-year-old Tim McLean — on a Greyhound bus near Portage la Prairie in July 2008.
He was later found to be not criminally responsible for the killing because he was suffering from violent hallucinations due to untreated schizophrenia, and believed he was acting on orders from a higher power. He was sent indefinitely to the Selkirk Metal Health Centre, where he has been undergoing extensive psychiatric treatments.
Given the international attention the case garnered, Shammartin said she understands why the media is now focussing so much attention on a Manitoba Review Board’s decision Thursday to allow Li to begin taking escorted trips into Selkirk.
What concerns her is the way the media is still portraying Li — they still refer to him as “the Greyhound bus killer” — and to the way the media is playing up concerns about public safety.
“They have to make sure they’re presenting a balanced story,” she said. “Mr. Li is still in a controlled environment where his medications are being controlled for him. We’re not talking about someone being released outright into the community.”
Shammartin said association officials are worried the negative publicity surrounding Li’s case will make others suffering from mental illness afraid to speak out about their problems or to seek help.
Shammartin said the message that seems to be getting lost in all of the controversy is that mental illness can be successfully treated, that patients can get better, and can resume productive lives.
And if Li’s doctors and a review panel conclude it’s now safe to let him go on escorted trips, Shammartin said their judgement should he trusted.
“Obviously we have empathy for the victim’s family. But none of this is going to bring him back,” she said.
» Winnipeg Free Press
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 19, 2012