Yes, most mentally ill people are not violent. Thanks to the USPRA for such a wonderful professional reflection on the violent attack in Arizona.
USPRA Issues Statement on Tucson Shooting January 13, 2011
The US Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association released the following statement in reaction to Saturday’s Tucson shooting in Arizona:
In wake of Tucson’s tragic shooting that shook America over the past weekend, we wish Congresswoman Giffords and the 13 other wounded individuals a speedy recovery, and our thoughts and prayers go out to all of those whose lives were impacted by this act of horrific violence.
With such senseless acts, we often search for someone or something to blame. The assassination attempt on Congresswoman Giffords has generated considerable speculation around the mental condition of the suspected shooter, which has heightened the stigma associated with mental illness. We must remember that there is a weak link between mental illness and violence. According to SAHMSA, nearly five percent of the US population suffers from a mental illness resulting in serious functional impairment, but only a very small group of individuals with mental health issues shows any violent behavior. Most people with mental illnesses are not violent, and most people who are violent are not mentally ill.
While we have no way of knowing whether or not our nation’s mental health system failed this individual, the Tucson tragedy should spotlight mental health policy & the provision of mental health services as a national priority. The best strategy to providing individuals with mental illnesses the assistance they need is to have an accessible system of care that is easy to use. However, because the majority of mental health services are delivered through public systems, these are usually the first programs to be cut in a state budget when money runs short. More socially accepted diseases like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and other physical illnesses don’t experience the same inconsistencies, yet funding for mental health programs seems to fall to the cutting room floor year after year.
In light of the Tucson shooting, we must also increase awareness of the need for mental health services within schools and colleges. The Mental Health on Campus Improvement Act attempted to increase accessibility to a range of mental and behavioral health services for students—including a focus on prevention, identification and treatment of students in college and university settings—but failed to gain any traction in the last two Congresses. We must realize that only by providing resources for prevention and outreach programs, can we ensure that students can obtain the support they need in order to recover and re-establish themselves in the community.
USPRA hopes that this tragic event brings the essential mental health system reforms that we so need in our nation and we will continue our responsibility to urge legislators to effectively address the needs of individuals with mental illness.
Resource: (Friedman, R.A. (2006). Violence and mental illness—How strong is the link? New England Journal of Medicine, 355(20), 2064-2066. )