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Invisible epidemic: the rise of impulsive acts of violence in Turkey 03 Eylül 2009

An employee whose job was changed by the Birecik Municipality raided the municipality building with a long-range firearm and opened fire on people inside the building, killing one.

As the world battles epidemics one after another -- the latest being the swine flu, which has so far killed over 160 people around the world -- an invisible plague, mental disorders that emerge in the form of impulsive acts of violence, seems to have reached an alarming level in Turkey. 

Not a single day passes without news of an incident in some corner of Turkey arriving at our homes, either through newspapers or TV stations, in which people have killed or injured themselves or others because of a mental disorder, which causes us to wonder whether the number of such cases is on the rise in Turkey.

It was only last month that a young man, Necdet Ergün, 31, who had been unemployed for some time, killed his older brother, sister-in-law and four nieces and nephews in İstanbul's Çatalca district. Ergün blamed his brother and sister-in-law for preventing him from marrying a woman he loved years ago. After the incident, Ergün told police that he remembered nothing about what he had done.

Nevzat Tarhan, a professor of psychiatry, told Sunday's Zaman that while there are no statistics available on such emotion-based acts of violence, according to his personal observations, the number of people committing such acts has increased and the page three articles in Turkish newspapers, which cover news about acts of violence, are no longer sufficient to cover all such cases.

One of the major reasons behind the rise in such cases is the weakening of family bonds in society, he said.

"In the past when people used to live in big families, the problems of individuals could be diagnosed and resolved by elder family members before they turned into obsessions. Now that family bonds have become weaker in Turkey, people feel lonely and a small problem can easily turn into something that urges them to commit murder," explained Tarhan.

He said that when this factor is compounded by financial problems, people who are generally uneducated and see violence as the only means to settle disputes can easily resort to violence.

In another incident last month, in the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa, an employee whose job was changed by the Birecik Municipality from the maintenance of parks to cleaning services raided the municipality building with a long-range firearm and opened fire on people inside the building. One died and five others were injured in the incident.

Regarding what happened in Şanlıurfa, Tarhan said the incident indicated that the man whose job was changed felt as though he had suffered an injustice and had resorted to his own means rather than the judiciary due to a lack of confidence in the justice system. "The slowness of the judicial mechanism in Turkey is another reason for acts of violence," Tarhan said.

Clinical psychologist Yeşim Türköz from the Turkish Psychologists Association (TPD), agreed that although there is no statistical data available, the increase of factors such as social stress and psychological disorders has triggered an increase in impulsive acts of violence in Turkey.

She said genetic tendencies may trigger a serious mental disorder in someone who is in a depressed mood as a result of factors such as unemployment, failure, financial problems and loneliness.

"But every psychological disorder does not emerge in the form of violence. Impulsive, emotion-based acts of violence take place when individuals are unable to predict the long-term costs of their actions and when their mental mechanisms break down," she explained.

How should people who commit such acts be rehabilitated?

Tarhan said the state and nongovernmental organizations should take the initiative and provide preventive health services to people through social responsibility projects before their problems get the better of them.

Professor Hamdi Tutkun, a psychiatrist at İstanbul's Sema Hospital, said the interior, health and justice ministries should take joint action to prevent impulsive acts of violence, noting that untreated psychological disorders should be addressed before it is too late.

"People who go to hospitals for psychological disorders, those who are detained by judicial institutions for aggressive actions and those who undergo psychological evaluation should be monitored. After being discharged from a hospital, people with disorders should periodically return to the hospital for checkups. When symptoms of the disorder recur, these people should be hospitalized again. This should not be hindered by bureaucratic procedures. Security officials and prosecutors bear a responsibility with regard to this," Tutkun said.

Türköz also said people who have psychological disorders should undergo psychological and psychiatric treatment and that social support systems should be strengthened to help these people.