Spying on Mental Health Records is a Dangerous Idea

Graham Panther | Medium | July 22, 2016

Why the Australian PM’s plan to spy on the mental health records of suspected terrorists could make our society less safe.

Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull just made a surprising announcement: the Government is considering accessing the mental health records of Australians suspected of terrorist activity. This is supposed to be a way of preventing so-called “lone wolf” attacks — such as in Nice, or Orlando— because apparently these horrific acts are primarily the result of mental health issues. So why do I feel like our society just got that much more unsafe with this announcement?

Turnbull’s proposal is already a slippery slope — the ongoing trade-off between an individual’s rights and national security — but it’s made all the more treacherous by the slippery language being used by the PM. With little regard for the facts, or the impact, he’s casually suggesting that mental health issues somehow explain or account for otherwise bewildering acts of violence.

Turnbull explicitly suggests that these lone wolf attackers have attached themselves to “murderous ideology” because of their mental health issues. As a mental health advocate who’s worked in the sector for ten years, I’ve heard this argument before in many forms. It boils down to the assertion that horrific, antisocial violence can somehow be explained by two simple words: ‘mental illness’. This idea is appealing, because it seems to make sense of the senseless — but if you take a closer look, it doesn’t really explain much at all...