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So, we’ve had two more mass shootings recently, in El Paso and Dayton, and we know more will come.
As a society, we collectively express our sadness, confusion and outrage as, of course, we should. But if we are able to string a few days together without another shooting, El Paso and Dayton will fade from our consciousness. Until it happens again. And it will. Death, taxes, mass shootings.
And where are many placing the blame? On mental illness. Not on the fact that there are 393 million guns in our country, enough for every man, woman and child to own one. Not on angry white males (who make up the majority of these shooters).
Research over the years has shown we have to be cautious when claiming a correlation between mental illness and violence. Most violence in our society is committed by people without mental illness. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, only 3 percent to 5 percent of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. As the Washington Post has reported, a recent FBI study that examined 226 men who committed or tried to commit mass killings showed that only 22 percent could be considered mentally ill. Moreover, study after study has shown that people with mental illness are far more likely to be victims of crime than they are to be perpetrators.
Myths and lies about mental illness are hurting people who want to be understood and accepted. It’s estimated that 2/3 of people living with mental health issues don’t seek help, and stigma is often the reason why.
As executive director for the last 16 years of the mental health nonprofit, San Antonio Clubhouse, and as a person who has also experienced mental illness, I’ve met thousands of others living with it, and I call many of them colleagues and friends. I’ve encountered people in psychosis, and people recently released from hospitals or jails. And guess what? In my 16 years, I’ve felt threatened only one time. And that person, once he did the things he needed to do to take care of himself, not only became a friend, but a Clubhouse donor (he passed away earlier this year).
No, I don’t feel anxious at the San Antonio Clubhouse, where we serve 60 or more individuals a day who are living with a mental health diagnosis. But when my wife and I go to a movie, or we’re walking through a crowded shopping center, the thought crosses my mind, if only for a moment: What if an angry person with an AR-15 were to open fire?
While we are beginning to see pushback to the fear-based ideology coming from our president and others, it seems segments of our society are becoming more polarized, more xenophobic and angrier. And when you add easily accessible guns to the mix, you can be assured these mass shootings will continue. All of which prompts the question: Who is really crazy here?
Mark Stoeltje is the executive director of San Antonio Clubhouse, a mental health recovery community.