Please stop talking about us.
Whenever there is a national mass shooting, it’s only a matter of time before the media begins to link mental illness with gun violence. It’s a really enticing argument: not only is it a simple explanation to a complex problem, but it provides explanation about an illness that is often misunderstood and largely ignored.
Here’s the problem. It’s not true. Scratch that, not only is it not true, but there is consistent evidence that debunks this link.
Research consistently confirms that mental illness is not a good predictor of future violence. In fact, domestic violence and history of DUIs have a stronger link to future violence. If we’re getting in the weeds, research has suggested that the attributable risk of violence for people with mental illness is 4%, meaning that 96% of violence would still occur. In fact, Everytown’s Analysis of Recent Mass Shootings found that 11% of U.S. mass shooters between January 2009 and July 2015 had disclosed mental health concerns, the impact of their mental illness on the event is unclear.
So listen, we get it: the narrative linking mental illness and gun violence seems easy. But we’ve got to stop. Just like any public health crisis, there is not just one solution. We’re all going to have to put our heads together to find solutions to this problem. While there is not a compelling link between mental illness and gun violence, there is a significant link between mental illness and gun deaths by suicide. Did you know that two-thirds of all gun deaths in the U.S. are due to suicide? But that’s a whole other topic for another time.
We already know stigma is a leading cause for people not seeking treatment for their mental illness, but instances like mass shootings only intensify these feelings of isolation. We hear from the media that we are dangerous, unpredictable, and violent – things that certainly are not true, but begin to feel true when they are constantly repeated and repackaged. As a result, people don’t get the treatment they need. They don’t share their illness with people, like friends or family, who could support them. In some cases, they die by suicide. Now more than ever we need to be conscious and supportive of those around us experiencing mental illness.
Please stop talking about us – those living with and experiencing mental illness. Be careful with your words because we hear you.
The goal of NAMI North Carolina is to eliminate stigma by providing accurate information about mental illness and to help connect people to the treatment they need.