On January 5, 2016, President Obama held a press conference in which he perpetuated the myth that there is a link between mental health conditions and gun violence.
In response, the Campaign for Real Change in Mental Health Policy went into action, calling for people to “Tell the White House to Stop Scapegoating People with Psychiatric Diagnoses!” At the same time, the Campaign is circulating its petition, addressed to the U.S. House of Representatives, asking them to “Vote Against The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (H.R. 2646).”
Please help! Write to President Obama, sign the petition, tweet to President Obama (@POTUS) and Valerie Jarrett (@vj44) with the hashtag #StopGunViolence, and contact your federal legislators! Every voice counts! As Edward Everett Hale famously wrote, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”
The letter I wrote to President Obama follows, and includes links to more information. Please feel free to use as much of the letter as you would like!
Dear President Obama,
I voted for you twice and, if you were able (and willing) to run for a third term, I would vote for you again.
That said, I was very disappointed to hear you link mental illness and gun violence during your press conference on January 5. Linking gun violence with mental health conditions is the wrong approach because, as Vanderbilt University researchers (among many other researchers) point out, “Mental illness is the wrong scapegoat after mass shootings.”
When economist Richard Florida took a look at gun deaths and other social indicators, he found that higher populations, more stress, more immigrants, and more mental illness didn’t correlate with more gun deaths. But he did find one telling correlation: States with tighter gun control laws have fewer gun-related deaths.
Between 2001 and 2010, there were nearly 120,000 gun-related homicides, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Few were perpetrated by people with mental illness .
To quote from a federal government website, “The vast majority of people with mental health problems are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. Most people with mental illness are not violent and only 3%-5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. In fact, people with severe mental illnesses are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population.
I know you agree that we need tougher gun control laws, such as were adopted in Australia after a mass shooting there in 1996 – and which resulted in a huge decrease in gun violence. I wish that Congress agreed with you.
Thank you for reading this,
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.