Objective: Due to the nature of their work, politicians are at greater risk of stalking, harassment and attack than the general population. The small, but significantly elevated risk of violence to politicians is predominantly due not to organised terrorism or politically motivated extremists but to fixated individuals with untreated serious mental disorders, usually psychosis. Our objective was to ascertain the frequency, nature and effects of unwanted harassment of politicians in New Zealand and the possible role of mental illness in this harassment.
Methods: New Zealand Members of Parliament were surveyed, with an 84% response rate (n = 102). Quantitative and qualitative data were collected on Parliamentarians' experiences of harassment and stalking.
Results: Eighty-seven percent of politicians reported unwanted harassment ranging from disturbing communications to physical violence, with most experiencing harassment in multiple modalities and on multiple occasions. Cyberstalking and other forms of online harassment were common, and politicians felt they (and their families) had become more exposed as a result of the Internet. Half of MPs had been personally approached by their harassers, 48% had been directly threatened and 15% had been attacked. Some of these incidents were serious, involving weapons such as guns, Molotov cocktails and blunt instruments. One in three politicians had been targeted at their homes. Respondents believed the majority of those responsible for the harassment exhibited signs of mental illness.
Conclusion: The harassment of politicians in New Zealand is common and concerning. Many of those responsible were thought to be mentally ill by their victims. This harassment has significant psychosocial costs for both the victim and the perpetrator and represents an opportunity for mental health intervention.
Keywords: Mental illness; cyber harassment; fixated threat assessment; public figures; stalking.
© The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists 2015.