Stigma of mental illness deepens post Sandy Hook

Adam Lanza's ID photo fromWestern Connecticut State University in Danbury.
Adam Lanza's ID photo fromWestern Connecticut State University in Danbury.

For nine years now, the Connecticut chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness has sponsored a walk to fight the stigma that many still attach to mental illness.

By coming out en masse, we showed the world that we and our family members are indistinguishable from the rest of the human race. Also, we have walked to raise funds to support those who are living with a mental illness.

This is year 10, and, sadly, in the wake of the tragedy of Sandy Hook Elementary School, the stigma we've been fighting all these years has a new hold on the nation. Indeed, much of my work consists of helping people who have a mental illness, and I am already encountering cases in which persons have been turned down for jobs because of their mental health history.

Never has it been more important for those of us living with a mental illness to confront the stigma head-on.

Truth be told, persons with a mental illness commit only about 4 percent of the violent crimes. Indeed, they are more likely to be the victims of violent crime than the rest of the population.

And yet, the National Rifle Association would have us focus our energies not on the guns that enable men to wreak mayhem but on those with a mental illness.

In the words of NRA head Wayne LaPierre, "We have no national database of these lunatics."

Most murders and mass murders are committed by angry men with a grudge to settle. So a "national database" of persons who have ever had a history of mental illness would do virtually nothing to reduce the number of horrific crimes committed with semi-automatic weapons.

Not only that, but creating such a database would in effect be giving the law's imprimatur to the stigma. We would be institutionalizing discrimination against those of us who ever sought medical care for a mental illness, and in so doing, we would be discouraging people from seeking the help they need.

The simple fact is this: Mental illness is not a predictor of violent behavior. A history of violent behavior may be a predictor, but, as we've seen in the case of Adam Lanza, there was no such public history, only his private predilection for the virtual violence of video games.

So now, more than ever, is the time for us to walk the NAMI walk.

Join us on Saturday, May 18, in Hartford's Bushnell Park. Your participation will go a long way to helping NAMI/Connecticut provide the free support groups and educational programs we deliver to more than 8,000 people each year.

Kenton Robinson is the community engagement manager of the New London Homeless Hospitality Center. He is a former Day staff writer and editor.

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