1) Separate dialogue about gun policy reform from mental illness, as researchers and mental health organizations have demanded – including the American Psychiatrist Association’s (APA) president just this past weekend14, and 2) Focus on the underlying, socioeconomic disparities, discrimination, addiction problems and gun access which are the true, primary drivers of the violence which plagues our nation.
As I mentioned above, research shows that mental illness, in and of itself, rarely leads to gun violence. What does research show? That lower socioeconomic status, being young and male, substance abuse (both alone and co-occurring with untreated mental illness), and a history of violence or domestic abuse are the major demographic and economic determinants of gun violence15. Killings such as those in Aurora, or the man who killed six people and injured Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona – shootings in which mental illness did play a role – represent only a small fraction of gun homicides in the United States16.
United States citizens have far greater access to high-capacity, semi-automatic weapons than people in any other Western nation. Despite making up only 5 percent of the world’s population, United States citizens own 50 percent of the world’s guns17. We boast the highest number of privately owned guns in the world.
Public policy, criminal justice, and mental health researchers who’ve actually studied the role – or lack thereof – mental illness plays in the United States’ mass shooting problem say laws which focus on limiting access to firearms for people with mental illness are unlikely to be effective. Instead, gun reform is most likely to increase public safety if it limits access to firearms for individuals with a history of criminal or violent behavior, or people battling substance abuse who are deemed to be at an elevated risk for violence18. Experts also recommend repairing the significantly fragmented mental health treatment system, including increasing services19, forming alliances with gun owners to provide better education about safe storage of firearms20, closing gun show loopholes, and gun-free college campuses and hospitals21. The APA’s president also this past week recommended exploring temporary, firearm restraining orders for individuals deemed an imminent risk to themselves or others.
I’m really tired of being talked about and treated like the 3/5 of a human being I’m basically considered today, and I’m tired of the media getting away with inflaming the discrimination and prejudice I live with. The different-minded are the only minority group in this nation it’s completely politically correct to disparage and oppress. We are the lepers of this country, America’s “untouchables.”
Over the past five decades, the U.S. has recognized the equality and civil rights of gay people, transgender people, the physically disabled, and racial, religious and ethnic minorities.
Now it’s our turn. Now it’s time everyone recognize the United States’ most unrepresented, invisible and oppressed minority group: the severely mentally ill. Stop blaming and scapegoating me for problems our politics, and many in the media, have played a significant role in creating. Stop slandering me on the airwaves. And start affording me the rights my constitution and the Americans with Disabilities Act entitle me to.
As Patrick Corrigan – who helped found the National Consortium on Stigma and Empowerment – wrote in a 2005 book, invoking Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech:
“Some readers might blanch at using Dr. King’s noble verse to make sense of the vision needed to overcome mental illness stigma. But for many advocates, the prejudice related to psychiatric illness is no less insidious or heinous… I dream of a time when people are judged by the merit of their character, not by the diagnosis in their chart or the symptoms with which they struggle22.”
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1“Mental Health Myths and Facts.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: http://www.mentalhealth.gov/basics/myths-facts/
2Goode, E., & Healy, J. (2013, February 1). Focus on mental health laws to curb violence is unfair, some say. New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/01/us/focus-on-mental-health-laws-to-curb-violence-is-unfair-some-say.html
3Suicide accounts for twice as many deaths as homicides, and more than half of suicides are committed with firearms, according to CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the nation.
4Corrigan, 2004; McGinty, Webster & Barry, 2013; Pescosolido, Monahan, Link, Stueve & Kikuzawa, 1999, as referenced in: Rosenberg, J. (2014). Mass shootings and mental health policy. Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, XLI(1), 107-121.
5Corrigan, P. (2005). Mental illness stigma as social injustice: Yet another dream to be achieved. In P. Corrigan (Ed.), On the stigma of mental illness (pp. 315-320). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
6While the majority of people with mental illness want – and are able to – work, less than 15 percent are able to obtain employment. People with psychiatric disability experience far greater discrimination than those with physical disabilities; our unemployment rates are 3 – 5 times higher than the general population (See Corrigan & Kleinlein, Orovwuje, P.R. & Taylor, A.J.W references.)
7 See: <ahref=”http://depts.washington.edu/mhreport/facts_violence.php”>http://depts.washington.edu/mhreport/facts_violence.php
8Corrigan, P. & Kleinlein, P. (2005). The impact of mental illness stigma. In P. Corrigan (Ed.), On the stigma of mental illness (pp. 11-44). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; Orovwuje, P.R. & Taylor, A.J.W. (2006). Mental health consumers, social justice and the historical antecedents of oppression. In, A.J.W. Taylor (Ed.), Justice as a basic human need (pp. 95-111). New York: Nova Science Publishers, Inc.
9See Watters, E. (2010). “The shifting mask of schizophrenia in Zanzibar,” in Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche. New York: Free Press; and Foucault, M. (1988). Madness and Civilization. New York: Random House.
10National Alliance on Mental Illness (2013). Mental illness facts and numbers: http://www2.nami.org/factsheets/mentalillness_factsheet.pdf
11Entry for “Crazy, adj.,” accessed at the online version of the Oxford English Dictionary http://www.oed.com.ezproxy.plsinfo.org:2048/view/Entry/44007?rskey=DNyHqc&result=2#eid
12Orovwuje & Taylor (2006); and Phelan, J.C., Link, B., Stueve, A., & Pescosolido, B. (2000). Public conceptions of mental illness in 1950 and 1996: What is mental illness and is it to be feared? Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 41, 188-207.
13Rosenberg, J. (2014). Mass shootings and mental health policy. Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, XLI(1), 107-121.
14American Psychiatric Association (2015, October 3). APA President calls for gun control measures in wake of Oregon tragedy. Psychiatric News.
15Rosenberg (2014), and American Psychiatric Association (2015).
16See Goode & Healy (2013), above.
17United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (2007). World Drug Report. http://www.unodc.org/pdf/research/wdr07/WDR_2007.pdf
18See Rosenberg (2014), and Goode & Healy (2013).
19Goode & Healy (2013).
20U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the Surgeon General and National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. (2012, September). 2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention: Goals and Objectives for Action. Washington, DC: HHS.
21American Psychiatric Association (2015).
22Corrigan, P. (2005). Mental illness stigma as social injustice: Yet another dream to be achieved. In P. Corrigan (Ed.), On the stigma of mental illness (pp. 315-320). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.