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Debunking preconceived notions of mental illness and gun violence

Experts weigh in on the differences between mental illness and violent behaviors
Published: Jan. 21, 2021 at 12:26 AM EST
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - In the aftermath of the deadly standoff that killed Officer Brandon Stalker and the gunman who shot him, Christopher Harris, Toledo Police held another press conference disclosing more details of the incident.

Harris’ family and police described him to be suffering from a mental illness.

During the conference, Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz addressed the public, asking, “How can a person who’s family believes to be suffering from a mental illness, how could that person obtain two legally registered handguns?”

After hearing the Mayor’s comments, Robin Isenberg, Executive Director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Greater Toledo, says she wanted to debunk some of those preconceived notions surrounding mental illness and gun violence.

“Mental illness is not a main problem of gun violence that we have in the United States,” says Isenberg, stating that only 4% of violence in the country can be attributed to mental illness and behavioral conditions.

“Anyone who kills somebody is clearly not mentally healthy, I think we can all agree on that, but it’s not necessarily true that they are diagnosed with a mental illness,” says Isenberg. “This is unfortunate absolutely, but we have two individuals who are deceased because of this and I think what’s important is we’re having a conversation about what mental illness is and isn’t.”

Erin Wiley MA, LPCC, the Executive Director of The Willow Center, mentions emotional distress caused by childhood trauma is more likely the cause when it comes to violent behavior.

“I do think sometimes it’s easy to want to blame the violent things that people do that something is wrong with their mind,” says Wiley. “The vast majority of people who have mental health issues have anxiety or depression to some degree or another. The overwhelming majority of those people do not commit crimes or violent acts, they are struggling with something that’s going on in their mind and it does not result in any violence or ending people’s lives or hurting them.”

If you believe you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of mental illness, you can reach out to NAMI of Greater Toledo for more resources.

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