It occurred to me after writing my earlier post Newtown Connecticut Shooting and Mental Health Its Time To Talk that social stigma is a slippery thing. I felt it might be helpful to clear up a few things about mental health and violence while not ignoring the realities of recent tragedies.
A site called Mental Health Reporting lists a number of research-based statements about violence and mental health. The most important takeaway here is the the vast majority of people with mental health disorders are not violent. The tendency of Hollywood and the news to highlight the most sensationalized exceptions to this rule strengthen this misunderstanding.
The point is that we may never know exactly what caused this to happen. But we still need to talk about ways we can help people with mental health needs. Whether this young man had a diagnosable disorder or not doesn’t dispel one fact. He and his family experienced a lot of difficulty and emotional distress over many years. People need to know they can get support for chronic burdens like that.
We need to ask questions and wonder aloud. Bringing these issues into the light helps us distinguish between fact and fiction, knowledge and assumption. Jumping to conclusions only serves to shut down the conversation. When people already think they have the answer or their opinion set, discussions die. Stigma and misinformation remain like an elephant in the living room.
We are faced with the delicate task of talking more openly about mental health. At the same time, people need to discuss accurate information. An article from a Canadian website goes into the confusion we have about mental illness and violence.
Many people think mental illness and violence are more closely tied than they really are. This stigmatic label can actually make people more reluctant to seek services, even if they themselves might be one of the few who could potentially harm themselves or others.
Start the conversation below. What are your thoughts about mental health stigma or the connection between violence and mental illness?