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Concern for mental health stigma after Sagamihara stabbings

Posted on: August 3, 2016 9:06 AM
The Tsukui Yamayuri En residential care centre in Sagamihara
Photo Credit: Google Street View

[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The Bishop of Yokohama in the Nippon Sei Ko Kai (the Anglican Communion in Japan) has expressed his concern that the murder of 19 people at a care home in Sagamihara last week could result in negative attitudes towards people with mental illness.

Bishop Laurence Minabe previously served as Rector of St Barnabas Church in the Rinkai area of Sagamihara, not far from the Tsukui Yamayuri En (Tsukui Lily Garden) facility where the murders took place. A former employee of the facility, 26-year-old Satoshi Uematsu, killed 19 people and injured 26 more – 20 of them seriously – in the attack last Tuesday (26 July).

Japanese police say that he carried out the attack because it was “better that disabled people disappear”.

Responding to the attack, Bishop Laurence said that he was “shocked” and “very angered” by the incident. “It is our belief that we have to look after those who are in need and most vulnerable,” he said. “Indeed, their families and friends love them and this institution is well known for the good service and behaviour of its staff.

“Those who have disabilities have feelings just as we all do. They will love others, feel happy, and enjoy their lives. Their sensibility is often more than average.

“This incident is very depressing and the circumstances are not fully understood. In spite of that uncertainty, however, it is very clear that those who should be loved by others have been massacred as a result.”

The nine men and 10 women killed in the attack were aged between 19 and 70. Police have not named them to protect their families who “do not wish to have them identified due to their disabilities,” the Japan Times reports.

In a further sign of the stigma associated with disabilities, the brother of one of the victims – a woman with cerebral palsy – spoke anonymously to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, explaining that the family had discussed whether or not to waive their anonymity. He said: “am I denying my elder sister’s 60-year-long life (by concealing my name)?”

When he was in his teens, the family had moved to a district where they were not known because the father feared that his daughter’s disability “could affect the marriage prospects of the relatives.”

“I cannot stop weeping,” the victim’s brother said. “It is true that disabled people and their families cannot live without the help of others. But it is utterly unforgivable killing only those in weak positions.”
It has been reported that the perpetrator, Satoshi Uematsu, had mental health issues and had been involuntary detained earlier this year. Now, the Bishop of Yokohama fears that this could lead to increased stigma towards people with mental illness.

“I am afraid that people will take a negative attitude towards mentally unstable people as a result of him,” Bishop Laurence said. “In order to recover our community where physically disabled people, intellectually disabled people, mentally disabled people and those who have weakness of some kind can share their thoughts and dignity I will pray to God and also ask you to do likewise.”