People with anxiety 'shouldn't have guns'

2014-05-13 12:03
Paralympian Oscar Pistorius is seen at the North Gauteng High Court on the 31st day of his murder trial. (Daniel Born/The Times/Pool)

Paralympian Oscar Pistorius is seen at the North Gauteng High Court on the 31st day of his murder trial. (Daniel Born/The Times/Pool)

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Pretoria - People with general anxiety disorder, like murder-accused Oscar Pistorius, are not dangerous but should not have firearms, the North Gauteng High Court heard on Tuesday.

"People with general anxiety disorder are not dangerous as such. People with general anxiety disorder probably shouldn’t have firearms, that’s what makes them dangerous," defence witness, forensic psychiatrist Merryll Vorster said during cross-examination by prosecutor Gerrie Nel.

"So many people in society have general anxiety disorder, but they are not threats as such. So the diagnosis as such is not one where one would associate [them] with violence."

She said such people were often at risk of obtaining firearms because they feared for their safety.

Pistorius is charged with murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. He shot her dead through the locked door of his toilet in his Pretoria home on 14 February last year.

He has denied guilt, saying he thought she was an intruder about to open the door and attack him. The State contends he shot her during an argument.


Vorster told the court she looked at the defence’s version of what happened, but said she would not be able to say which version the court would accept. She said she did not look at the State’s version.

She was given a transcript of Pistorius’s version but did not go through it because "it is not necessarily the version that the court would accept".

Nel asked Vorster if the State’s version would affect her view or diagnosis.

"No it wouldn’t have made a difference because the diagnosis stays constant. Two factors that are constant is the anxiety disorder and the vulnerability [of Pistorius]," she said.

Nel asked whether a person with general anxiety disorder would be anxious in a fight. Vorster said yes, more so than normal people.

"Because the individual would be anxious about losing a relationship. If there had been an argument about a relationship a person with general anxiety disorder would have been anxious."

She agreed that the general anxiety disorder would have played a role.

General anxiety disorder, like that which Pistorius was diagnosed with, is common, but for it to be seen as a disorder it would have to affect a person's life, Vorster said.

"Anxiety is a very common phenomenon. The condition [general anxiety disorder] is also a very common disorder," she said.

"To raise it to a level of a disorder, one had to have anxiety more often than not for an expanded period of time."

She said such a person would see situations as being more serious than what they actually were. It would cause sleep disorders, vomiting, diarrhoea, and the inability to concentrate.

Mental observation

When court started Nel indicated that he would go back to what he spoke about on Monday - a possible application to send Pistorius for mental observation.

"Today we are doing something different, but we will get back to that," Nel said.

He continued to ask Vorster about the diagnosis of general anxiety disorder and if it would impact Pistorius's general functioning. He asked Vorster if it would impair Pistorius’s functioning on various levels.

"Yes My Lady that is why it is a disorder," she replied.

"With an anxiety disorder people are unable to set their anxiety aside."

Nel asked about the levels of severity of the disorder.

Vorster said with every disorder there were levels of severity, but it was not obtained in her diagnosis. Nel asked if it was severe enough to be seen as a mental illness.

"I wouldn’t say that. If one had a general anxiety disorder that is severe it may impact on your capacity to lead a normal lifestyle," she said.

"One could say it is a mental illness, but you have to look at the impact of that illness on the person."

Not incapacitated

She said someone might become incapacitated because of all the preparations they had make to function normally, like go to work.

Pistorius was not incapacitated. He was still able to function at a high level as an athlete, and was able to socialise, but had stress, Vorster said.

Nel questioned Vorster on why Pistorius’s friends and his former girlfriend Samantha Taylor, who testified for the State, never mentioned that he was anxious.

"Most people control and conceal their anxiety… Mr Pistorius and his family were not aware that he had anxiety disorder."

Steenkamp’s mother June Steenkamp was in court on Tuesday. She sat in the front row of the public gallery. On the other side of the front row sat the Pistorius family, including the athlete’s older brother Carl, younger sister Aimee, and uncle Arnold.

- Health24: General Anxiety Disorder

Read more on:    reeva steenkamp  |  oscar pistorius  |  pistorius trial

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