What Americans Believe
- As recently as 2013, 46% of respondents to a national survey said that people with mental illness are more dangerous than other people
- Two recent Gallup polls indicate that MORE people believe that mass shootings result from a failure of the mental health system than from easy access to guns
- 80% of people believe that mental illness is at least partially to blame for these incidents
Why We Believe It
- News/entertainment media
- Most news accounts portray people with mental illness as dangerous
- Characters in prime time television portrayed as having a mental illness are depicted as the most dangerous of all demographic groups (60% were shown to be involved in violence)
What are the facts?
- Mentally ill people are 10 times more likely than those without mental illness to be the VICTIMS of crime
- The vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent; the vast majority of those who commit violence are not mentally ill
- Research by Jeffrey Swanson, PhD
- Mental illness alone accounts for 4 percent of violence
- When the following characteristics were factored in—male, living in poverty, and abusing alcohol/drugs, those factors alone were bigger predictors violence, with or without mental illness
- His research has two myths
- that mentally ill are dangerous (they aren’t)
- That there’s NO connection at all between violence and mental health (there is, but very small)
- Macarthur violence reassessment study
- Substance abuse is a key contributor to violence; when substance abuse and poverty are factored in, people with psychiatric diagnoses are no more likely than their neighbors to commit violent acts
- One year after release from psychiatric hospital, the psychiatric patients were no more likely to be violent than anyone else, so long as they weren’t abusing drugs/alcohol
- Mental health symptoms such as hearing voices or believing outside influences are controlling behaviors do not correlate with higher rates of violence
- Substance abuse plays a factor
- The biggest predictor of violence is previous violence
Why does it matter?
- Inaccurate beliefs about mental illness and violence lead to widespread stigma and discrimination against people with mental illness and prevent people from getting tx
- The effects of stigma and discrimination are profound. The President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health found that, “Stigma leads others to avoid living, socializing, or working with, renting to, or employing people with mental disorders - especially severe disorders, such as schizophrenia. It leads to low self-esteem, isolation, and hopelessness. It deters the public from seeking and wanting to pay for care. Responding to stigma, people with mental health problems internalize public attitudes and become so embarrassed or ashamed that they often conceal symptoms and fail to seek treatment (New Freedom Commission, 2003).”
- As we have conversations about this topic right now of how to prevent mass shootings, we need to be aware of what the facts tell us
- Mental illness does not cause violence
- As we consider policy changes IN RESPONSE to mass shootings, we need to stop focusing on evidence that isn’t there
- Do we need better mental health services? YES, but bettering them isn’t going to decrease mass shootings
- Do we need to take guns away from mentally ill people? NO, not if the reason we are doing it is to try to prevent violence against others. If we are looking to restrict gun control laws, we should probably look to the biggest predictor of violence, which is a previous history of violence. Perhaps we should make it more difficult for those with a history of violence to obtain a gun.
- Focusing on mental health when these incidents occur only stigmatizes mental health more than it already is, and may in fact prevent some people from reaching out to get the help that they need
The next time you hear a report on the news, or have a conversation with a friend on this topic, if you notice that mental health is being blamed, maybe you can let the person know that mental illness does not cause violence. Thank you for doing your part in stopping the stigma surrounding mental health and violence.