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February 7, 2009 10:37 AM

Mental illness

Posted by Letters editor

Counteracting unfair stigma about violent behavior

Thank you for publishing the latest findings in the Archives of General Psychiatry demonstrating that people with a serious mental illness, without other big risk factors, are no more violent than people without a mental illness ["Study says mental illness alone is no trigger for violence," Health and Family, Feb. 2].

This study is not the first to reach this conclusion, but the findings need repeating. Public opinion surveys demonstrate convincingly that the wildly inaccurate perception that people with mental illness are likely to commit violent acts does in fact exist.

This attitude underlies widespread stigma and discrimination experienced by people with a mental illness, impacting their ability to gain access to basic needs such as housing and employment. The near-monolithic reporting of news events involving people with mental illnesses, such as the Virginia Tech shootings or the Skagit Valley massacre in Washington state, helps to perpetuate inaccurate public perceptions and drives public policy.

As often as possible, it is important to counteract such portrayals by providing a broader context of violent behavior.

If we could only read more news stories that reflect accurately the promise of mental-health treatments and marked improvement for the vast majority of people living with mental illnesses, then we could really make progress in counteracting unfair stigma and discrimination experienced by people with mental illnesses.

-- Jennifer Stuber, Ph.D., Seattle

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