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OPINION



STOP LINKING GUN VIOLENCE IN THE US WITH MENTAL ILLNESS. NOT ONLY IS IT NOT TRUE, BUT IT ONLY INCREASES STIGMA ON PEOPLE WITH SERIOUS PSYCHIATRIC DISORDERS


Curtis Abraham



Media-fueled public perception assumes that modern assault weapons in the hands of people with mental illnesses are the chief causes behind the recent uptick in mass shootings in schools and elsewhere in the US. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Epidemiological studies show that the large majority of people with serious psychiatric disorders are never violent. In fact, someone who suffers from a mental illness is more at risk of being a victim of violence.


In addition, a climate of serious crime creates adverse circumstances that can lead to extraordinary anxiety and, for people with pre-existing mental illness symptoms, those symptoms can be exacerbated, say experts.


The most destructive out-coming of all this, of course, is an increase of stigmatization on people suffering with mental illnesses. Such stigma is reinforced in the mind of the general public every time a mass shooting in the USA occurs.


“People with serious mental illness are stigmatized as being perpetrators of these types of crimes, and this has resulted in efforts to keep guns out of the hands of individuals with mental illness,” writes psychiatrist Renee Binder MD, of the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine in the US.


Even America’s gun laws maintain this false and dangerous premise. Federal firearm laws refer to people with mental illness and “mental defectives” (Gun Control Act of 1968, 18 U.S.C 922 [d][4]. In addition, such individuals are barred from gun ownership in the mistaken belief that this makes Americans safer.


Where gun violence and psychiatric disorders intersect is via suicides. In 2020, 54% of all gun-related deaths in the U.S. were suicides (24,292), while 43% were murders (19,384), according to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) (a considerable drop from six years ago when suicide accounted for about 65% of firearm deaths in the US according to the American Association of Suicidology).

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