Mental health and mother tongues: The role of ethnic media in multicultural communities
MIREMS President Andrés Machalski suggests that both public safety and mental health agencies should pay attention to ethnic media voices because they are part of the cross cultural environment of violent incidents.
In instances like these, it appears that a scapegoating pattern begins to emerge. Triggered by the fact that jihadism has become a popular cover for mentally unstable, socially marginalized, death-by-cop suicide cases.
The connection between Faisal Hussein and ISIS hangs in the air—regardless of lack of evidence. For Canadians searching for answers to their slack-jawed utterance of ‘why?...how?’ the impact of this association can have severe consequences: It accelerates marginalization, gives it a destination and a cause—a bigger buck for the bang, so to speak.
The other answer, brought to light by Hussein’s family in a letter, blames severe mental illness for the attack.
Toronto’s former deputy police chief Peter Sloly speaking with CBC’s The Current warns: "We're too quick to just circle one particular aspect of human condition and say that's the one we need to focus on.”
Ethnic media reporting on this matter is crucial because it happens from inside the communities and in the streets. Look at the names: A Greek area, Eastern European and Irish deaths; an Arabic mentally ill shooter with a troubled brother in a coma due to an overdose becomes suspect of a jihadist attack.
For marginalized individuals, a direct connection with the cause is not required—they breathe it in with the air of their community—the one that accepts them and ignores them at the same time. Listening to a discussion on a talk show in Punjabi, seeing a tweet in Chinese, or a letter to the editor in Urdu.
Minority communities play active roles in controlling the narrative around these incidents. Chinese source Sing Tao Toronto’s headline works to assert Hussein’s lack of criminal past stating “Faisal Hussain had no criminal court files associated with his name, but a complicated past full of family misfortune.”
Cantonese radio talk show CHMB AM 1320 asserts the lack of evidence behind the Islamic State’s claim on the attack.
Language and culture can play an important part in radicalization—as well as in de-radicalization. Both messages are emotionally more powerful if conveyed in the mother tongue. Research from UNESCO has shown that children’s first language is the optimal language for literacy and learning throughout primary school. Children whose primary language is not the language of instruction in school are more likely to drop out of school or fail in early grades. During childhood and beyond, diversity is a significant part of any process in Canada today—even in the refusal to recognize it. Political parties have lost elections for partaking in this refusal.
Language and culture can also play an important part in the treatment of mental illness, above all in communities where the subject is taboo.
Ethnic sources focused on the role of mental illness and lack of mental health resources for at-risk residents. EastFM 102.7 a Tamil talk show based in Toronto covered the announcement that mental health funding—to be matched by the federal government—would go towards police initiatives.
Nationally, work towards mental health awareness, prevention and treatment has increased steadily over the past decade. But with new initiatives and research comes new words, shifting meanings and a changing dialect. All of which take even longer to be translated into the vernacular of Canadians with other mother tongues.
Most people would agree that Faisal Hussein was the product of a troubled environment and that triggered his actions in selecting a busy street on a Sunday night to go on a shooting spree, but it would be a lack of insight to ignore the fact that his environment is multilingual and multicultural. In that context, cross-cultural communication or alienation might have played an important role in the incident.
Multicultural media, both social and traditional, can both shape community opinion and provide insights into the real world as experienced by these individuals. Can it play a crucial role in helping mental health patients avoid becoming police news?
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