How Shootings Stigmatize People Living with Mental Illness

From: NAMI Blog: 

On Sept. 20, CNN.com invited and published the following guest article by NAMI Executive Director Michael J. Fitzpatrick. NAMI also released statements on the Navy Yard tragedy on Sept. 17 and Sept. 19.

When tragedies occur, such as the one at the Navy Yard in Washington, all Americans are deeply affected.

They include the one in four American adults who experience mental health problems. That’s approximately 60 million Americans. Their first reaction is much like that of anyone else: feelings of anger and anguish and wanting to know when such events will ever stop.

But there’s another, secondary impact to this community if a history of mental illness is suspected. Tragically, in the case with the Navy Yard gunman, mental illness appears to be a factor. But in too many cases, people simply assume that it is, no matter how much we caution that it’s best not to attempt to diagnose any medical condition speculatively through the news media.

Unfortunately, stigma surrounds mental illness. It’s most associated with a violent stereotype. The result has always been fear, prejudice and discrimination toward anyone struggling with a mental health problem.

The stereotype endures despite the fact that the U.S. Surgeon General has found that the likelihood of violence from people with mental illness is low. In fact, “the overall contribution of mental disorders to the total level of violence in society is exceptionally small.”

Despite the impact of the Navy Yard tragedy and those of Newtown, Aurora and Virginia Tech on perceptions, a much greater, different reality exists. Many thousands of veterans experience post-traumatic stress disorder. Civilian employees of the military seek help for depression; teachers live with anxiety disorders. Students succeed academically while managing bipolar disorder.

People living with schizophrenia may be psychologists, professors, peer counselors or businesspersons. They are all members of their communities. Few are violent…

CLICK HERE to view this entire article at NAMI Blog.

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