VIDEO: People With Mental Health Disabilities Shut Down Dangerous Ideas About Gun Violence

The assertion that severe mental illnesses cause gun violence, specifically mass shootings, is not helpful and not accurate, but it is harmful. It is a dangerous idea. And we hear it from the media and our leaders all the time. Worse, no one ever seems to ask people with mental health disabilities what they think. So we asked. And here’s what they said.

*Trigger Warning: these resources contain content that some viewers may find triggering, such as footage of institutions and stories from people about their experiences in institutions.

How many people in the U.S. have a mental illness?

Statistics show that 1 in 5 American adults, over 40 million people, have a mental illness. It’s likely that you have a family member, friend, or co-worker that identifies as having a mental illness.

Does everyone who commits a mass shooting have a mental illness?

No. There is no evidence that all mass shootings are the results of the shooter having a mental illness or that their actions were a result of a symptom of a mental illness. Statistics show that there is a low percentage of people with a mental illness that commit mass shootings. Factors like racism, transphobia, homophobia, revenge, history of being violent or abusive are common motivators for violence, particularly gun violence.

Did President Trump make it easier for people with a mental illness to own guns?

No. President Trump ended an Obama-era rule that discriminated against people with disabilities who have a representative payee to help manage their Social Security disability benefits. The legislation wrongfully targeted people with disabilities and many national disability rights groups spoke out against the rule.

What does institutionalization have to do with gun violence?

Nothing, really. Some leaders, including President Trump, have suggested that locking up people with mental illness in institutions will affect gun violence. But they ignore the enormous harm that can do to people with disabilities. Institutionalization is when people are placed in a residential facility, sometimes against their will. People with mental illnesses can be physically, emotionally, and/or sexually abused, refused access to treatment and medications, and forced to live in unsanitary conditions while institutionalized. Though most mental health institutions in the U.S. closed down, people with disabilities still face the risk of institutionalization through placement in nursing homes, jails and prisons.

What barriers do people face in seeking help for their mental illness?

Inadequate health care coverage, inaccessibility of services and buildings, and cultural and societal stigma are just some of the factors that prevent or delay people from seeking mental health support. Sometimes the wait for an appointment can take weeks or months. People with multiply marginalized identities, such as being a person of color or identifying as LGBTQ may also find it difficult to find a provider or resource that they trust.

How can I support and advocate for people with mental illnesses?

Reformation must happen from the ground-up. Connect with allies in your community to share resources and push for effective, thoughtful mental health reform. Most importantly: actively listen to people with mental illnesses. News coverage of mental health is sporadic and rarely includes input from actual people with mental illnesses. Challenge your social circles and media companies to reframe their understanding of and language around mental health.