Labels matter

Listen, proper labeling is really important. A missed label could result in me putting paprika on my pancakes instead of cinnamon for crying out loud. Right now a lot of people are labeling people who commit mass shootings as mentally ill. It’s very easy in our climate right now to slap on the label of mental illness to a person who commits a horrific crime such as a mass shooting. As a result it becomes easy for people in power to say things like we need more mental institutions to put people who have mental illness so the rest of the population is safe. And that is extremely unsettling and scary to me being the mother of a child who has mental health issues and as someone who also has some mental health issues including anxiety and postpartum depression. And this is exactly what is happening right now as I write this. The President and people who run the NRA are talking about people with mental illness and people who are violent and commit violent crimes in the same breath. They are using global terms such as crazies and nutjobs in order to describe these groups of people. But what they are missing, as always in this administration, is evidence and statistics. So here are statistics regarding mental illness and gun violence according to the APA:

Mass shootings by people with serious mental illness represent less
than 1% of all yearly gun-related homicides. In contrast, deaths by
suicide using firearms account for the majority of yearly gun-related
deaths.
 The overall contribution of people with serious mental illness to violent
crimes is only about 3%. When these crimes are examined in detail,
an even smaller percentage of them are found to involve firearms.
Copyright © 2016 American Psychiatric Association Publishing. All Rights Reserved.
To purchase the complete resource, please visit http://www.appi.org or your local bookseller.
82 GUN VIOLENCE AND MENTAL ILLNESS
 Laws intended to reduce gun violence that focus on a population representing
less than 3% of all gun violence will be extremely low yield,
ineffective, and wasteful of scarce resources. Perpetrators of mass
shootings are unlikely to have a history of involuntary psychiatric hospitalization.
Thus, databases intended to restrict access to guns and
established by guns laws that broadly target people with mental illness
will not capture this group of individuals.
 Gun restriction laws focusing on people with mental illness perpetuate
the myth that mental illness leads to violence, as well as the misperception
that gun violence and mental illness are strongly linked.
Stigma represents a major barrier to access and treatment of mental
illness, which in turn increases the public health burden.

These are the actual statistics on gun violence and mental illness. So what this should tell us is that there is a difference between people who truly suffer from a mental illness such as clinical depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, etc and people who are violent. Yes, there are violent people in the world who are not afflicted with mental illness. They are just violent. They often feel left out, disenfranchised, angry and have poor impulse control. The combination, especially in young people who have under developed frontal lobes can become deadly in an instant. Often these people become withdrawn and spend less and less time with people and become angrier and angrier. Yes they may also have a mental illness that has gone undiagnosed or misdiagnosed but the big misconception is that just having a mental illness is what causes mass shootings and as you can see from actual data this is just not accurate. And it is really, really important to be accurate and look at evidence and research in order to make informed decisions about how to solve this gun violence problem we currently have in our country.

My daughter came in yesterday as I was watching the news and heard people talking about not allowing people with mental illness to have access to a gun. She looked at me and said, oh well, I guess I’ll never have a gun and walked away. As her mother I am thankful everyday that I didn’t have a gun in the house when she was suicidal three years ago. Even if the gun was locked she would have found a way in and in her state of mind I feel certain she would have hurt or killed herself with a gun. So yes, I agree that for the safety of our children and loved ones with mental illness it is good to not let them have access to weapons that would kill them so quickly and absolutely. But creating a database of all people with mental illness and locking up people with mental illness makes me sick to my stomach as it fuels the stigma around mental illness that we have fought so hard to extinguish. And it doesn’t get to the primary problem of violence and violent offenders. Violent offenders such as domestic abusers, white supremacists, gang members, etc can easily pass mental health screenings. So yes, we need to address mental illness and mental health in our country just like we need to address illnesses such as heart disease and cancer. But to put all of blame of mass shootings on mental illness is dangerous and wrong.

People without mental illness can and do become violent at times. In my opinion no person, mentally ill or mentally healthy, should have access to a gun that can cause mass casualties in a matter of minutes. This is not a weapon of self defense or a means of hunting for food. This is a weapon of mass casualty. A person with a handgun can be taken down by people around them, a person with an assault rifle will just plow through killing as many as possible. This not a call to take away peoples’ guns but to take away the easy access to an assault rifle that’s only purpose is mass shooting. There is no valid argument that will persuade me to take the side of the assault rifles over the side of human beings losing their lives to them. Stop making mental illness into taboo and talking about locking up people with mental illness. Give the mentally ill better access to health care and educational supports within schools. Equip our teachers with the knowledge of how to address mental health in the schools. Have compassion for people who struggle everyday to get out of bed and take a shower and go to work or school. Identify early signs of violence in people and do something about it. Stop turning a blind eye to domestic abuse. Stop saying that if people are violent they must be mentally ill. Start by taking assault rifles out of the hands of the general population, tighten up loopholes at gun shows, and tighten up background checks. This country has a gun problem, not a mental illness problem so address it properly. Stop blaming the mentally ill and start blaming the weapon that is easier to obtain by an angry, disenfranchised youth than a pack of cigarettes or a beer.

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