Recently, in the news, as is often the case after a mass shooting, there’s been an uptick in correlating gun violence with mental illness. This language plays upon stigma, reinforcing the idea that someone unwell and violent must be mentally ill. According to James. L. Knoll IV, M.D., and George D. Annas, M.D., M.P.H., people with serious mental illness represent about 3% of violent crimes, even fewer incidents involve firearms. In 2018, the FBI released a report examining 63 active shooters, finding that 25% had been diagnosed with a mental illness. In the general population, 18.9% of all U.S. adults have a mental illness while young adults have a higher prevalence at 25.8%.
The National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD) responded to these assertions linking gun violence and mental illness yesterday in a press release, stating “connection between mental illness and violence is complex. Most people with mental illness are not violent and most violent people do not have mental illness. However, a small number of people with mental illness may be harmful to themselves or others.” The non-profit organization, which represents the state executives responsible for the public mental health service delivery systems in 50 states, 4 territories, and the District of Columbia, states the reality is that nearly every American is at risk of dealing with a mental health crisis in his or her lifetime, whether their own or that of a loved one. What’s more, this risk on the rise. According to the CDC, the number of suicides is increasing, making it the 10th leading cause of death overall and the 2nd for people ages 10 to 34.
NASMHPD states the best way to get upstream in mental health is through a comprehensive crisis system. In the press release, it urged Congress to enable states to provide community-based services for people in mental health crisis through an increase of $35 million, a 5 percent set-aside in the funding for the Mental Health Block Grant administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
The House of Representatives approved H.R. 2740 on June 19th, which is now awaiting Senate approval.