In the only the last few days, more than 100 people have been killed by a firearm in nearly 300 incidents in the United States. This includes the 19 children and two adults murdered at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas.
These events drew attention to mental illness and attempted to link mental illness to violence. As CEO of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Washington, I’m begging you to stop. Violence is not a product of mental illness. Violence is the product of unprocessed anger.
Where there is a clear intersection of gun violence and mental illness is suicide. More than 60% of gun deaths in the United States are suicidesand mental illness is an important underlying cause.
So why do attempts to link interpersonal gun violence and mental illness persist? Maybe because people want quick answers and it’s easy to assume a shooter has a mental illness.
It is important to understand the most common underlying factors that lead to violence: untreated anger, domestic violence, history of violent acts, growing up in a place where violence is used, and being young and male. To be clear, anger is not a mental illness. Hatred of others is not a mental illness.
Wasting time reporting mental illness does not bring us any closer as a nation to solving the epidemic of gun violence, and it leads to discrimination and stigmatization of people with mental illness – who are more likely be victims of violence than the perpetrators.
As someone living with a mental health issue, this stigma is real to me. Now that I’ve shared that I have a mental illness, are you afraid of me? Do you think I might be prone to violence? This is the stigma that I and others face when we share disease status.
Other countries with similar percentages of people with mental illness in their populations do not see the same level of mass gun violence as in the United States. In 1996, a massacre in Scotland killed 16 students and a teacher. The UK took legislative action and 23 years later all forms of gun violence have decreased significantly. In contrast, America has more guns and more guns per capita than any other nation. With 120 civilian firearms per 100 peoplethe United States more than doubles the next country in line.
Gun violence is a public health crisis. We urgently need common sense approaches to ending gun violence in this country. We all want to end this senseless violence and trauma, so we must come together as a nation to find meaningful and meaningful solutions.
NAMI is ready to help the nation deal with its trauma. You can connect to your local NAMI chapter at nami.org/findsupport. The NAMI Helpline is available at 1-800-950-6264 – open Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Pacific Time.
Lauren Simonds is the Executive Director of the Washington Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization, offering free peer-led classes, support groups and community programs. NAMI Washington is the state office, directing 20 local NAMI affiliates across Washington. For more information, visit namiwa.org.