Mental health profiling is any action taken for reasons of safety, security or public protection that relies on stereotypes about a person’s mental health or addiction instead of on reasonable grounds, to single out a person for greater scrutiny or different treatment. A “stereotype” is a generalization about a person based on assumptions about qualities and characteristics of the group they belong to.
The concept of “profiling” comes from the experiences of people in racialized and Aboriginal communities who have been subjected to racial profiling. Many court and tribunal cases have confirmed that racial profiling happens. Although mental health profiling may look different than racial profiling, it is still damaging.
One common stereotype about people with mental health disabilities is that they are violent, even when there may be little objective evidence of this.
Example: Security staff at a hospital are routinely called to be present if a person’s file shows a mental health diagnosis, regardless of the person’s behaviour.
Mental health profiling is different from criminal profiling. Criminal profiling uses actual behaviour or information about suspected criminal activity by someone who meets the description of a specific person. Mental health profiling is based on stereotypes. If organizations or people single out someone with a known or perceived mental health disability or addiction for different treatment, and this is based on stereotypes and assumptions rather than on the person’s actual behaviour, this may violate the Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code).
Profiling based on mental health can happen in many situations. For example:
- When receiving services, such as in a shopping mall, a restaurant, health care, when interacting with police, when getting services from government, a community agency or another service provider
- In housing (for example, when renting an apartment)
- At work, or when applying for a job.
Example: An employer tells its employees that one of their colleagues attempted suicide in the past. Even though there are no concerns with the employee’s behaviour, the employer treats him as a risk to other people because of his mental health history.
When different Code grounds combine or intersect, it can contribute to people from different groups being perceived as a risk to public safety. For example, people with mental health issues who are Aboriginal or from racialized communities may be more likely to be profiled as a security risk than other people.
There may be situations where people with mental health issues or addictions, due to their disabilities, act in way that doesn’t create a risk, but is seen to be “different”
or unusual. Because of this, they may be thought of as a risk to public safety and responded to unequally. This can still be a form of profiling.
To avoid profiling, organizations and people must assess risk based on a person’s individual circumstances, using objective evidence or criteria, and not on assumptions based on a person’s diagnosis or perceived mental health issue.
There are situations where someone’s disability-related behaviour may justify a real or legal basis for scrutiny. It is not discriminatory to respond to the actual behaviour
of people with mental health disabilities that causes risk.
However, even where there is some evidence of risk or wrongdoing, organizations and people are expected to respond in a balanced way that corresponds to the situation. Overreacting can lead quickly to a situation escalating unnecessarily.
For more information
The OHRC’s Policy on preventing discrimination based on mental health disabilities and addictions and other publications are available online at www.ohrc.on.ca.