Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mental-health official laments media's portrayal of Li

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A local mental health official is worried the media storm surrounding the Vince Li case will undermine efforts to successfully treat mental illness for years to come.

"It really does worry me that we're moving the whole mental-health issue back 20 years," Nicole Shammartin, executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association Winnipeg, said in an interview.

Li, 44, killed and beheaded fellow Greyhound bus passenger Tim McLean, 22, near Portage la Prairie in July 2008.

He was later found 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 treatment.

Given the international attention the case received, Shammartin said she understands why the media are now focusing so much attention on a Manitoba review board's decision Thursday to let Li start taking escorted trips from the mental-health centre into Selkirk.

What concerns her is the way the media are still portraying Li -- they still refer to him as "the Greyhound bus killer" -- and the way they are 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 with mental illness afraid to speak out about their problems or seek help.

"They may be afraid of being labelled... and of people talking about them the same way (they are talking about Li)," she said.

"And I worry that even with the people already getting help, this will put them back in their recovery."

Shammartin said the message that seems to be getting lost in all the controversy is mental illness can be successfully treated, and patients can get better and resume productive lives.

If Li's doctors and a review panel conclude it's now safe to let him go on escorted trips, Shammartin said their judgment should be trusted.

"Obviously we have empathy for the victim's family, but none of this is going to bring him back," she said.

McLean's mother, Carol de Delley, maintains mentally ill killers such as Li should be held indefinitely in a hospital and allowing them back into society puts the public at risk.

The CEO of the Schizophrenia Society of Canada, who attended last Monday's hearing into the Li application and has met with him several times, said Thursday he understands the public's concern.

But Chris Summerville said he doesn't believe members of the public are at risk because of the review board's decision.

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 19, 2012 A3

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