Linking gun violence to mental illness compounds stigma and harms individuals who are living with serious mental illness, New York Times, November 2017

Donald Trump is not the first politician to blame gun violence on the notion that the shooter has a mental illnessHere is the result of claims such as his: when the media links gun violence to serious mental illness, people are less likely to want to be around those with mental illness, believing them to be dangerous (McGinty, Webster, and Barry 2013). Here are the facts: having a mental illness is only a very weak predictor of perpetrating violence (Corrigan and Watson 2005), whereas persons with mental illnesses are 11 times more likely to be victims of violent crimes than members of the general population (Teplin et al. 2005). Imagine how it must feel to be lumped into a category of people assumed to be unnaturally violent and therefore to be avoided at all costs. Committing an atrocity does not mean a person is mentally ill. Perpetuating this stereotype is unfair, hurtful, and compounds the stigma surrounding mental illness, a stigma that is so powerful that it actually deters individuals who need mental health care from pursuing it (Corrigan 2004). Moreover, it distracts attention from the very serious crisis of gun violence in the US, the victims of which are disproportionately likely to have a mental illness.

Sources: McGinty, Emma E., Daniel W. Webster, and Colleen L. Barry. “Effects of news media messages about mass shootings on attitudes toward persons with serious mental illness and public support for gun control policies.” American Journal of Psychiatry 170.5 (2013): 494-501.; Patrick W., and Amy C. Watson. “Findings from the National Comorbidity Survey on the frequency of violent behavior in individuals with psychiatric disorders.” Psychiatry research 136.2 (2005): 153-162; Linda A., et al. “Crime victimization in adults with severe mental illness: comparison with the National Crime Victimization Survey.” Archives of general psychiatry 62.8 (2005): 911-921; Corrigan, Patrick. “How stigma interferes with mental health care.” American psychologist 59.7 (2004): 614.