This piece was in yesterday’s Albany Times Union.
The point of the article is that a simple mathematical exercise about global numbers indicates that issues of violence and mental illness are largely a ‘smokescreen’.
When you are discussing people with mental health related issues, the focus should not be punitive and stigmatizing, it should be on the things that really matter like community support services and paying our workforce a reasonable wage so we can retain the quality staff necessary to help support individuals in their recovery.
Also, we must end the stigma for the next generation and there is no better remedy than mental health instruction in schools.
Mental illness doesn’t trigger carnage
By Glen Liebman
Every mass shooting in the United States has been followed by the chorus of people who lay the blame entirely on mental illness. The causal factors behind mass killings is complex. Social scientists and policymakers should be focused on trying to better understand this phenomena rather than latching onto a convenient scapegoat such as mental illness.
We know that we are right about mental illness not being a mitigating factor for violence. How do we know this? By looking at the numbers. The National Institute for Mental Health reports that one out of every five adults and youth in the United States have a mental health-related issue in any given year. Worldwide percentages are not significantly different. Given the lack of mental health services in some of these countries, the percentage of people outside the United States with mental health issues is likely even higher.
The entire population of 22 countries including Great Britain, Spain, France, Germany, Mexico, South Africa and Italy is close to 900 million people. If you stay consistent with the U.S. figure of one in five, that means that nearly 180 million people across those 22 countries have a serious mental health issue. Here’s the kicker. Adding all those countries combined, they have had six mass shootings in the last year. In the United States, we have had 250.
Are we saying that they have a better mental health system than ours? Of course not. What we are saying is that these global numbers indicate that mental illness has little to do with mass shootings.
When mental illness generally is blamed for violent acts, it can have a chilling effect for scores of people who will refuse to seek services for the fear of the false equivalency between mental illness and violence. Let’s stop scapegoating mental illness in mass shooting and instead focus on what will make things change — like the innovative work being done in New York around mandating mental health instruction in schools and creating generations that are not fearful of stigma, and instead develop greater understanding of mental wellness and support.
• Glenn Liebman is the CEO of the Mental Health Association in New York State, Inc.