Do you remember Elliot Rodger? The young man who in 2014 killed 6 and injured 14 in a crazed killing spree in Isla Vista, California? Or how about Chris Harper-Mercer, who killed 9 and injured 8 in Oregon a year after the Isla Vista killings? Both killed themselves after their rampage. Alek Minassian, on the other hand, did not commit suicide after running over and killing 10 and injuring  14 innocent bystanders in Toronto, Canada this past year. But he did his best to get shot and killed by a policeman who had his gun drawn, but who managed to take Minassian down without a shot being fired.

Memorial at Mel Lastman Square By Flibirigit [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Memorial at Mel Lastman Square in Toronto by Flibirigit / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Three angry, violent, and ultimately suicidal young men who caused terrible tragedies in the communities they unleashed their rage on. And the evidence suggests that all 3 self-identified as incels.

What is an incel you ask? It’s a blend of the words involuntary celibate: someone who wishes to have sex but cannot manage to find partners. Where did this community come from? And why is it dominated by angry young men?

The term was apparently coined by a young college student in Toronto way back in 1993, who started a website to talk about her sexual inactivity. But what was meant as an inclusive community for those people who were marginalized from societal dating norms because of awkwardness or mental illness has since become an often racist and frequently violent online community of sexual frustrated young men. So racist and violent that a sub-reddit of the incel community has been banned from reddit.

What is the likelihood that an involuntary celibate will purchase weapons and start attacking random strangers, or even acquaintances, out of the blue? That’s an impossible question to answer but a more reasonable question to ask is this: are these sick young men getting the help that they need? Let’s look at some data for OECD countries to try and get some answers to this strange and deadly new phenomenon.

 

The Cost of Poor Mental Health

In the first place, it’s important to realize that mental health problems are expensive due to the lost productivity of workers across the economy.

Country/Region Lost Gross Domestic Product (GDP) due to Mental Health Issues
European Union 3%-4%
England 4.1%
France 2.3%
Canada 4.4%

Canada’s GDP in 2017 was CAD$1.798 trillion. Although the OECD figures in the table above are from a decade or so ago, assuming they still more or less hold true, that means that Canada loses about CAD$79 billion every year to mental health problems. Put another way, it means a loss of CAD$1,980 per capita due to mental health problems in Canada.

Absenteeism, unemployment, and lost productivity really do add up. But how many people really are seeking treatment for their mental health problems? Here’s some figures from an OECD study of the gap between all those who have a mental health problem and those who actually seek treatment:

Mental Health Disorder Treatment Gap
Schizophrenia 32.2%
Anxiety Disorders 57.5%
Drepession 56.3%
Bipolar Disorder 50.2%
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder 57.3%

Now we need to consider how likely it is that someone with an untreated mental health problem will explode in violence, and not just any violence, but a planned attack on innocent people. This is an extremely low probability event, and those who self-identify as incels are a small group that may number in the thousands or tens of thousands - although there is no real way to know this. It must be stressed that involuntary celibacy in and of itself is NOT a mental health problem. Someone’s reaction to their own self-identified status as an incel can perhaps be classified as a mental health problem, but not involuntary celibacy itself. Depression and rage seem to be common themes among the incel community but these are separate and well-studied mental health disorders. So involuntary celibacy is an emerging and still not well-understood phenomenon.

OECD Country Muder Rate (per 100,000 people)
United States 5.0
Chile 3.7
Canada 1.8
France 1.4
Australia 1.2
Germany 0.8

While this chart suggests that incel outbursts are more likely in the USA and Canada - it is unlikely that many in Chile are even aware of the term- we are dealing with people who may indeed have mental health problems but may not even be aware of what disorders they in fact have. It is also a fact that countries like the United States and others are putting in place systems to monitor and deal with mental health problems.

 

What is Being Done?

While this chart suggests that incel outbursts are more likely in the USA and Canada - it is unlikely that many in Chile are even aware of the term- we are dealing with people who may indeed have mental health problems but may not even be aware of what disorders they in fact have. It is also a fact that countries like the United States and others are putting in place systems to monitor and deal with mental health problems.

In the following countries, information systems to collect and analyze mental health indicators have been put in place:

  • Australia
  • England
  • The Netherlands
  • Sweden
  • New Zealand
  • United States

This is a helpful first step to understanding what the problems are in mental health in OECD countries and how to try and get patients to start taking the treatment they need to become functional members of society again and to lead better lives. It will likely not stop the next crazed killer who self-identifies as an incel or as part of any other extremist, fringe group, but it might ensure that someone like that will seek treatment instead of stockpiling weapons and planning lethal attacks on their fellow citizens.


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