After a summer of mass shootings, it seems as though the national debate on how to fix what is broken comes down to two major options: restrict the availability of guns or define a group of individuals who should have restricted access to guns. This latter group almost always involves defining persons with mental illness as dangerous individuals. I’m not about to wade into the gun debate, but I am ready to actively debate anyone about the low degree of violence perpetrated by people recovering from mental illness.
Some individuals with mental illnesses actually are prone to violence, but most who experience these tendencies do well with proper treatment. People who have a mental illness are less likely than the general population to commit violent crimes. In fact, people with mental illnesses are much more likely to be the victims of crime than the perpetrators of it. This may be because they appear to be vulnerable, because their economic realities mean they live in unsafe neighborhoods, or just because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time. To hear that people are a heightened danger to others just because they are dealing with a mental health condition is uninformed and wrong.
I don’t know the answer as to how to stop mass shootings. But I do know the answer to how to see people with mental illness as being regular law-abiding people. LOOK AROUND YOU. How many people do you know who are getting counseling or who take an anti-depressant medication? How many children do you know have ADHD? How many returning veterans have you met with PTSD? How many new moms (and dads) have postpartum depression? Yes, people with some form of mental illness are all around you. They should not be vilified because they are experiencing a medical condition. Whether or not they should have access to guns is beyond my pay grade, but helping people understand the challenges and accomplishments of people recovering from mental illness is right up my alley.
People with mental illness are not pariahs. They are our friends, neighbors, coworkers, children, relatives, etc. And the statistics say that in your lifetime you are likely to also be one of them.
Let’s not stigmatize people who are recovering from mental illness as being dangerous, violent individuals. Instead, let’s acknowledge their challenges, gifts, and victories—that is what we do at McClendon Center. Join our community of friends and supporters and help us continue to spread the message that people can—and do—recover from mental illness.