In the wake of the Newtown tragedy, the Interfaith Disability Advocacy Coalition recently released Grounded in Faith: Resources on Mental Health and Gun Violence. This compendium is a resource for congregational leaders, disability advocates, and other concerned persons who wish to ensure that the on-going debate around gun violence prevention does not stigmatize people with mental illnesses, and deprive them of their rights and freedoms.
Most notable from this report, “According to the MacArthur Study of Mental Disorder and Violence — the most rigorous scientific study conducted to date by the country’s leading experts on mental illness and violence — the contribution to violence made by persons with mental illness is no larger than the contribution made by persons who do not have mental illness (Monahan et al., 2001), with other demographic and socioeconomic factors contributing much more than mental illness.” Furthermore, "rigorous scientific studies on mental illness and violence demonstrate that demographic and socioeconomic factors are much more likely to contribute to violence than is mental illness. Of the 17,000 homicides committed in the United States each year, fewer than 5 percent involved mental illness."
In spite of these facts, the media, talk show hosts, humorists, bloggers, and uninformed citizens insist that people with mental illnesses pose a threat of violence. As a result, millions of Americans with mental illnesses are stigmatized unfairly. In addition, the myth that people with mental illness are violent creates demands for unwarranted limitations on their rights and freedoms, including rights established under the Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision. Equally important, these negative characterizations and the possible loss of rights and freedoms may discourage many people from acknowledging their illness and seeking treatment.
This compendium of resources can be used to initiate conversations among students, parents, neighbors and colleagues with conflicting views; to provide guidance to study groups and workshops; to support advocacy to protect the rights and dignity of people with disabilities; and to inform national organizations, state and federal policy makers and officials about this complex subject. Grounded in Faith can nurture a new dialogue about the nation’s insufficient mental health system and serve as a springboard for action across religious and secular communities. At every opportunity, the voices of people dealing with mental health issues should be welcomed and valued.
Given all the evidence against, why do you think many people cling to the idea that mental illness is the primary cause of violent acts?