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Publication #1041 - Adopted 09/20/2014, Amended 5/24/2017
Individuals with mental health disabilities often face stigma and bias because of the false assumption that people with mental health disabilities are dangerous or violent. The perpetuation of misconceptions about violence and mental health disabilities results in these individuals facing discrimination in housing, employment, social situations, and basic civil rights protections.
Millions of adults in the United States have mental health disabilities and live successful, productive lives. They are our family members and friends, co-workers and colleagues. They live independently, work in jobs, and actively and positively contribute to society and the United States economy.
The federal New Freedom Commission on Mental Health found that, “Stigma leads others to avoid living, socializing, or working with, renting to, or employing people with mental disorders —especially severe disorders, such as schizophrenia. It leads to low self-esteem, isolation, and hopelessness…Responding to stigma, people with mental health problems internalize public attitudes and become so embarrassed or ashamed that they often conceal symptoms and fail to seek treatment (http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/mentalhealthcommission/press/july03press.htm).”
Many Americans believe people with mental health disabilities pose a threat of violence, a perception that has nearly doubled in the past half-decade. The media promotes these stereotypes through selective reporting, which reinforces the public’s stereotypes linking violence and mental health disabilities. From dramatic depictions on television and in movies to media accounts and news stories, the vast majority portray people with mental health disabilities as dangerous and focus on negative characteristics of these conditions (e.g., unpredictability and unsociability). Few highlight positive stories of recovery or individual contributions to society.
In fact, only a small amount, about four percent, of violence to others in the United States is attributable to mental health disabilities. This represents a small percentage of people who are violent, given some estimates that as many as one-half of all Americans report having a disabling mental health condition at least once in their lifetime. Individuals with mental health disabilities are more often the victims of violence than the perpetrators of violence. People are 2.5 times more likely to be attacked, mugged or raped than the general population if they have mental health disabilities, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or psychosis.
The vast majority of gun violence occurs during domestic violence disputes, the commission of felony crimes, and by gangs. Yet, the media sensationalizes stories of mass shooting and gun violence that involve individuals with perceived mental health disabilities and fails to report on violence attributable to other factors, such as societal pressures in poor urban areas and domestic and gang violence.
Disability Rights California (DRC) is committed to the elimination of stigma and bias against individuals with disabilities including stigma and discrimination stemming from the false link between mental health disabilities and violence. In furtherance of this principle, DRC will oppose legislation that,
DRC prefers to use the term “mental health disability” rather than the term “mental disorders.” We use this term here because it is a direct quote from the New Freedom Commission on Mental Health report. “Return to Main Document”
Consortium Report at p.5; NAS Reference Manual at p.847. See also Surgeon General Report at p.7 (“the overall contribution of mental disorders to the total level of violence in society is exceptionally small”); NASMHPD Toolkit at p.82 (“[m]ental illness is only a weak predictor of violent behavior”). “Return to Main Document”
Kessler RC, Berglund P, Demler O, Jin R, Merikangas KR, Walters EE (June 2005). "Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication". Arch. Gen. Psychiatry 62 (6): 593–602. “Return to Main Document”
Hiday, V.A., Swartz, M.S., Swanson, J.W., et al. (1999). Criminal victimization of persons with severe mental health disabilities. Psychiatric Services, 50, 62-68. “Return to Main Document”
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