Mental health advocates are tired of the automatic connection between mass shootings and mental illness.
NAMI North Carolina posted a statement to its website: “Please stop talking about us.”
“Consistent evidence debunks the link” between mental illness and gun violence, the statement says.
Nicholle Karim, NAMI-NC’s interim executive director, said she thought it was time to talk about the facts after the mass shooting in a Texas church that left more than two dozen people dead. NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
“This link tends to happen when there’s a discussion around a mass shooting,” she said. “We as a society tend to dissect the person’s mental health. There’s a lot of research on how that’s not as direct a link as people may have been led to believe. People with mental illness are more likely to be a victim of crime rather than a perpetrator of crime.”
The post links to a research paper by a national expert, Jeff Swanson, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University.
“The overwhelming majority of people with serious mental illness are not violent toward other people,” Swanson said Tuesday. “When they do get violent, they’re less likely to use a gun than other people.”
Swanson was lead author of a 2014 research paper that concluded, “Evidence is clear that the large majority of people with mental disorders do not engage in violence against others, and that most violent behavior is due to factors other than mental illness. However, psychiatric disorders, such as depression, are strongly implicated in suicide, which accounts for more than half of gun fatalities.”
The assumption that severely mentally ill people commit horrific crimes stigmatizes mental illness and discourages people from seeking treatment, said Karim of NAMI-NC.
“It comes back to the stigma that exists in our society and persists,” she said. “Part of our mission is to provide accurate information about mental illness.”