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Convention 2019
Mental Illness and Violence

ABCT's Board of Directors addresses the tragedy of mass shootings

As mental health practitioners, it's our job to help people improve themselves, overcome anxiety or depression, and, sometimes heal the wounds that come from being hurt or being in the same space as another who has been hurt. Our treatments are based on science, and we use those treatments that are most likely to have the best outcome in a given situation for a given individual.

Science also informs our understanding of processes, including violence. Let's start with the facts about guns, violence, and mental health.

According to the National Institutes for Health (NIH), 1 in 6 adult Americans lives with a mental illness; that's about 45 million Americans. A much smaller group, about 13 million Americans, lives with serious mental illness: that's about 4.2% of the population, among whom about two-thirds are receiving some form of treatment.

Some media reports, along with politicians and the National Rifle Association, have tried linking mental illness to gun violence.

There have been 150 mass shootings (4 or more dead) since 1966, the year that one gunman killed students from a tower at a Texas university. That includes 1,077 people killed in mass shootings during the last 50 years, about 21 people per year. Now, 2018 is shaping up to be a catastrophic year, with 34 killed in two shootings during the first 2 months of the year.

Let's look at the actual relationship between serious mental illness and violence. About 22% of mass murders are conducted by people with severe mental illness - that's important but it also means that 78% of mass murders are committed by people without such an illness. And, serious mental illness is responsible for only 4% of all gun violence, which is the same as their percentage of the general population. So except in cases of mass shootings, there is NO relationship between serious mental illness and gun violence. An American with a serious mental illness no more likely to use a gun to hurt someone than the person next door.

Thus, it is not the mental state of the individual, but access to guns that's more likely to be the related to gun violence.

Jessica Henderson Daniel, APA President, recently said : "...remember that only a very small percentage of violent acts are committed by people who are diagnosed with, or in treatment for, mental illness. Framing the conversation about gun violence in the context of mental illness does a disservice to the victims of violence and unfairly stigmatizes the many others with mental illness"

Gail Steketee, ABCT Past President, noted: "We can track patterns of aggressive and unpredictable behaviors that seem potentially dangerous, and the country can and should prevent those individuals from obtaining guns. But in fact, mental health researchers and clinicians cannot actually predict who will explode into physical violence, especially those with a grudge who have access to guns. Prevention can only work if we remove the guns from the equation. Unfortunately, this has become highly political. Real prevention of death by guns means taking action against the influential minority who favor extensive access to all kinds of guns and try to stop reasonable efforts to control gun access."

Olga Khazan, writing in The Atlantic, reinforced the small number of people with serious mental disorders who commit violence with guns. She also noted that those numbers are even lower for people who are in treatment. To reduce these rare incidents of gun violence by people with serious mental illness even more, allocating more money for treatment is the place to start.

As an organization we encourage greater funding for mental health treatment. More than one-third of all Americans with serious mental illness receive NO treatment, and, for many others, more treatment would be better. We would also like to see research that will help us understand and prevent gun violence. In our politically charged environment where politicians simultaneously reduce gun restrictions and falsely claim that one part of the population is at fault, something doesn't add up.

ABCT Board of Directors:

Sabine Wilhelm, Ph.D.President
Gail Steketee, Ph.D.Immediate Past President
Bruce Chorpita, Ph.D.President Elect
Mary Larimer, Ph.D.Secretary Treasurer
Sandra Pimentel, Ph.D.Representative-at-Large
Simon Rego, Psy.D.Representative-at-Large
Risa Weisberg, Ph.D.Representative-at-Large

 

 

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