Tragic mass shootings understandably have led to widespread alarm and a search for solutions. In the days following the Parkland tragedy, a growing amount of press coverage and political rhetoric has simplistically equated violence with behavioral health conditions.

In an ABC News and Washington Post poll following the Parkland, FL shooting, “Fifty-eight percent of the 808 respondents said stricter gun laws could have prevented the shooting, but a larger portion, 77 percent, said better mental health monitoring and treatment would have averted it.”

The equating of mental health and violence is not only incorrect, but also serves to perpetrate and increase stigma and discrimination against people living with behavioral health issues.
People with mental health conditions are more likely to be the victims of violence, or die by suicide, than they are to commit violence against others. According to an essay by advocate Ari Ne’eman: “Research has found that serious mental illness accounts for only between 3 percent to 5.3 percent of violent crime—and even this association is reduced after controlling for neighborhood and substance use problems.” The greatest predictor of future violent behavior is not a mental health diagnosis, but past violent behavior, including a history of domestic violence, as well as uncontrolled anger and social isolation.

Stigmatized views and misconceptions about people with mental health conditions can potentially lead to policies that infringe on their civil rights, such as calls to make it easier to involuntarily commit people and to re-open the asylums. For example, the Broward County sheriff, proposed expanding the Baker Act, Florida’s involuntary commitment law, to make it easier to institutionalize people on the basis of social media postings. In a recent meeting with governors, President Trump called for opening more mental institutions.

According to the ABC News/Washington Post poll, a majority of Americans still link mental health conditions and mass shootings. The good news is that the percentage of people who believe this has gone down since a similar poll was conducted in 2015. Let’s continue to play our part to shift the attitudes and defeat stigma and discrimination!

What you can do: