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CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) -
In addition to bringing the
gun control debate to the forefront, the Newtown Connecticut shooting has also
put a spotlight on mental health issues.
In the wake of Friday's
tragedy many are asking "Why?" In response, there has been a lot of speculation
about what might have been going on in the shooter's mind that morning, but
mental health professionals are warning that jumping to conclusions can cause
more harm than understanding.
The concern is that prematurely
tying tragedies like the one in Newtown to mental illness can perpetuate
stereotypes and further deter people from seeking help.
Dr. Stephen Strakowski is the
Sr. Associate Dean of Research and the Chair of Psychiatry at UC.
"The vast, vast majority of
people with mental illness would never think of doing this just like anyone
else," he explained. "They understand that this is morally reprehensible
Dr. Strakowski has been
watching the unfolding coverage of the Newtown shooting, including the
speculation about the shooter having a possible mental health condition.
"I think that people jump on
the mental health issue because then they can put it into a ‘they' category
rather than a ‘we' category," he argued.
Strakowski worries prematurely
tying the tragedy to mental health will have negative effects.
"To try and label it off as
mental illness then puts all mental illnesses off into one bucket that these
are ‘dangerous' or ‘untrustworthy' people and it adds to the stigma and trouble
of getting help," he said.
"The percent of people who
are actually violent is so small in people both without mental illness and in
mental illness that although yes, it's increased, it's still a very, very small
minority of people," Strakowski went on to add.
Even with so many questions
still unanswered, Strakowski says it is never too early to talk about mental
He believes as a society,
more family and individual networks of support are needed to get help to people
before they act out.
"Our laws are set up that
even if someone is make threats there is really little anyone can do and police
following the law … will tell you they can't do anything until someone actually
commits a violent act," he explained.
Strakowski says the most
common place people receive mental health treatment for severe mental illness
these days is in jails rather than mental health facilities.
Strakowski says he would
rather see a larger conversation begin that dives into the complexities that
lead to violent acts instead of trying to simplify them with labels.
"The better first step is:
how do we as a society foster this kind of behavior that we allow it to happen
though obviously we despise it?" Strakowski offered.
The Executive Director of the
National Alliance on Mental Illness authored a blog earlier this year
surrounding the issue of mental health and violence. The blog was in response
to public outcry following the Aurora, Colorado Shooting. In the blog, Director
Mike Fitzpatrickwrites "Despite
many public perceptions, we do know that generally the likelihood of violence
from people with mental illness is low." He referenced a U.S. Surgeon General
report from 1999 that states "the overall contribution of mental disorders
to the total level of violence in society is exceptionally small."
According to a blog
written by the director of the National Institute of Mental Health following
the Tucson shooting in 2011, people with severe mental illness are up to three times
more likely to be violent. He writes that the likelihood may increase when
substance abuse and especially an episode of psychosis is involved. At the same
time, however, Dr. Thomas R. Insel points about most people with a severe
mental illness are not violent and that in the greater picture, mental illness
contributes "very little to the overall rate of violence in the community".
Instead, the blog references a study showing those individuals are at a higher
risk of being victims rather than perpetrators.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness has offices
in the Tri-State. N.A.M.I. representatives encourage anyone with questions
about mental illness or mental health or people interested in getting resources
and referrals to call 513.351.3500.
A spokesperson says messages will be
returned within 24 hours.