Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s usage of the word “nutcase” in relation to a mental health hospital patient was “unfortunate,” according to one national organization working on mental health advocacy.
“I’m sure the premier wishes he had been a bit more careful,” said Camille Quenneville, CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association.
Ford used the word “nutcase” during a phone call to a talk radio show on Thursday. He was demanding answers on how Zhebin Cong — a patient detained at a mental health hospital for killing his roommate — was able to escape.
Cong was being detained at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) after being found not criminally responsible in 2016 of second-degree murder.
“What is the family thinking of the poor victim that got chopped up with a meat cleaver by this nutcase and then they let him loose out on the streets,” Ford said.
Police have previously said that Cong had left the country and that they are working with international law enforcement agencies to find him.
Quenneville said mental health advocates try to reduce stigma related to mental health illness “in whatever form.”
“I simply don’t defend the use of that word,” she said Friday. “We need to change the way we talk about serious mental illness, about mental health as a society, and I think in order to do so, we should probably talk about diagnoses.”
When asked about the criticism regarding using the word, Ford’s press secretary Ivana Yelich said the premier was “speaking about an individual who murdered his roommate with a meat cleaver.”
“While he was found criminally not responsible, we think that equating this incident with the millions of people who struggle with mental health does a great disservice to the mental health community,” she said in a statement.
Ford also spoke to Global News Radio 640 Toronto Friday morning, discussing Cong’s case. He did not use the word “nutcase” during this short appearance.
LISTEN: Doug Ford on The Morning Show (July 19)
Speaking in general about stigmatizing language around mental health, Dr. Kwame McKenzie — CEO of the Wellesley Institute — said words can have “real impact” on people.
“We’ve been trying to move away from stigmatizing terms for a while now in mental health and trying to move forward with some more understanding and positive terms for people who have an illness,” he said.
According to CMHA’s website, approximately 50 per cent of Canadians “will have or have had a mental illness” by the age of 40. The association also notes that numerous studies have shown that “media and the entertainment industry play a key role in shaping public opinions about mental health and illness” and that using “accurate and sensitive words” when discussing people with mental illness is important.
WATCH: Multiple investigations into killer’s escape from CAMH
— With files from Catherine McDonald and the Canadian Press