If I can, I try to tell stories that would otherwise go untold. This happened when I was fourteen years old, and still living in Finland.
Don’t be undeterred that this happened in another country because I think this story could well be repeated anywhere in the world if we’re not careful with the funding and importance we place on mental health treatment.
It was July. Because it was the school holidays, I thought I’d visit the library about three miles away. My family lived in a very peaceful area, you could walk alone at almost any time of day without a care in the world. That’s what I did.
There was hardly anyone about, so I did notice the cyclist from a while away. I thought that he was a bum because of how scruffy he looked. We glanced at each other as he passed, and I caught a whiff of stale cigarettes. A plastic bag was dangling on the handlebar.
I can spend hours in the library. As I headed home, it was already evening. Because this was July in Finland, it was as bright as midday. I passed familiar landmarks. An estate, a corner store.
I stopped. There were two routes I could take. One would take me less time but I’d have to clamber a steep hill. Another one was more long-winded but I would avoid the hill. I chose the more long-winded route.
Later the same night we saw on the news that a 14-year-old girl had been stabbed to death at a fenced basketball court, which I would’ve passed had I chosen another route.
The murderer was an 18-year-old man who was arrested from his home the next day. He knew that he was going to get caught but the police were first searching for a much older man based on the witness statements.
Once the suspect’s photos were published, I recognised him immediately even though part of his face was blurred. It was that scruffy cyclist. No wonder the witnesses were confused, you could’ve never guessed he was only eighteen. The plastic bag dangling on the handle bar of his bicycle had held the knife he later used to stab the girl 46 times.
A murder like this was rare, and the case caught huge media attention. As the case went to trial, it also created nationwide debate regarding mental health treatment. The murderer revealed that he had suffered from anxiety for several years and had been queuing for specialist treatment since April. He had been prescribed anti-anxiety medication but hadn’t taken them because he was afraid of the side-effects.
While under questioning, he revealed that he thought that killing someone might relief his anxiety. He had spent hours looking for the right victim, and chose the girl because she posed the smallest risk of self-defence. When asked about the waiting list he had been on, he had said that he ‘might not have killed anyone had he gotten into treatment sooner.’
It was impossible for me not to be impacted by this case. I had ran into this murderer who had been on the prowl. I was the exact same age as the poor girl who lost her life later that day. She could’ve easily been me.
To this day I don’t know why I was spared that day. There was nobody about when we locked eyes. Maybe because I was on an open road instead of an enclosed basketball court. I’ll never know.
The worst thing about this case was that the murderer got what he wanted. He was taken to a psychiatric facility indefinitely. It hadn’t been long since Finland’s first school shooting, and all that was left was a debate about how the country I was born in treated its mentally ill.
Had I become unwell while still living in Finland, I don’t think for a second that I would’ve spent three months at a ward. I would’ve been treated on an outpatient basis, maybe in a hospital for a few days had I been lucky. Even though my birth country is ranked the top of the world in many regards, mental health treatment is still disgustingly insufficient and people who are unwell get thrown out on the street with a pill bottle.
No system is without its flaws. Neither is the UK. But I am grateful that I happened to be where I was when I became ill. I was lucky.
That girl on the baseball court wasn’t as lucky.
I didn’t know her. We went to different schools, and Finland’s media laws meant that her name has never been published. I still think about her, especially whenever I read about how suicidal people are not receiving the treatment they need, long queues to services or ways to relieve the pressure to the system with methods that are based on out-patient services.
I don’t mean that this is necessarily going to happen or that it will happen because of the aforementioned things but I think this ten-year-old murder case reminds us why there needs to be further discussion regarding mental health difficulties.
What if this young man had received proper guidance regarding his medication? What if mental health medication had not been so stigmatised that suffering severe anxiety was a better option than the feared side-effects? Not even side-effects. Feared side-effects. What if he had taken his medication and it had helped? There is a chance that this girl could still be alive and be 25-years-old just like me.
It’s not like he didn’t seek help. He spent months on a waiting list and had probably stayed on it for a whole lot longer had he not done what he did.
I do not condone what he did in any shape or form. But I understand how his mental health difficulties might have created circumstances within his mind where something as horrifying as what he did might had seemed like an option. Since nothing seemed to be happening. He didn’t receive the support he desperately needed.
Still we know the murderers’ side of the story but not his victim’s. Her story ended that night, and it didn’t have to happen. It shouldn’t have happened.
Again, I’m not fear-mongering. I’m not painting pictures. I’m just telling this story because I’m still alive to tell it. It’s to remind anyone who thinks that mental health issues do not constitute as a real illness that all it takes at the end of the day is one person, who decides that killing someone might make the hell inside their head stop.
That should be something serious enough for even the most sceptic and uneducated person to take this matter seriously.
Nameless girl, I remember you. Especially now when I have started talking about mental health openly and have seen the stigma surrounding it still, ten years later.