Alyssa Duff ’19, Website Editor/Social Media Manager
I hear it all the time: the only way to end gun violence is to stop people with mental illness from having the ability to easily obtain firearms. At first thought it seems like a logical idea, but it does not take into account the complexity of mental illness.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said at a press conference, “People with mental illness are getting guns and committing these mass shootings.” However, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), only about seven percent of recent major violent crimes were related to mental illness. While seven percent of the crimes could have been prevented by a policy that stops mentally ill patients owning guns, 93 percent of the crimes could be stopped if legislation focused on the bigger picture. It is why lead researcher for the APA, Jillian Peterson, reminds Americans that “the vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent, not criminal and not dangerous.”
Defined by the Gun Violence Archive, in America, there have been 101 mass shootings in 2018 so far, yet 48.3 million Americans have been diagnosed with a mental illness this year, and that does not account for those left undiagnosed.
When a mass tragedy occurs we search for the answer as to why — why something so tragic had to happen. The misconception develops when we begin to blame mental illness as the core cause. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, fewer than five percent of the 120,000 gun-related killings in the U.S. between 2001-2010 were carried out by individuals diagnosed with a mental illness. It is time to question the apparent relationship between mass shootings and mental illness.
No matter where you stand politically, we, as a society, need to break the stigma around individuals with a mental illness. Not everyone with a mental illness is violent, and not everyone who is violent has a mental illness. There is not a clear, direct correlation between the two, so we cannot blame the mass shootings on the mental health system, and on the mentally ill. We cannot take away the rights of mentally ill individuals because we have been led to believe they are the reason for the violence surrounding the world today.
Instead of focusing policies and legislation on those who are mentally ill, we should spend time eliminating stereotypes of people that are not representative of who they are. These stereotypes have presided over violent crimes for a long time, but lumping together all mentally ill patients as those who carry out mass shootings, when evidence has proven otherwise, is detrimental to how society views those individuals. Junior Jacob London said, “It is wrong to associate negative connotations to any group, and mental illness is not an exception.”
We grow up believing that individuals with mental illness are automatically dangerous, and the stereotypes needs to be changed. No time at school, at work or any other place for that matter, has taught us differently. For that reason, the stigma around mental illness is natural, but that does not mean it should be tolerated. “Especially in the media, mentally ill individuals are portrayed as evil, violent, but in reality there is a large portion of individuals who have a mental illness and can still fully function on an average day,” junior Juliette Gassner said.
Contrary to the belief of many politicians, simply not allowing mentally ill people to own guns will only stop a miniscule percent of gun violence, and we need a better plan than that. We need to stop the extremely violent tragedies that occur too often, but focusing on certain citizens is not the way.
Individuals who suffer from a mental illness are not always violent and for that reason their basic rights should not be taken away for an assumption made by society. It is time to push back on the discrimination against those with a mental illness and make a change.
Photo courtesy of Rock Prairie Behavioral Health