Iowa Mental Health Advocates: Blaming Mental Illness for Mass Shootings Creates Stigma

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- After two mass shootings in 24 hours, mental health advocates are concerned with how some are placing the blame on mental illness.

Peggy Huppert, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Iowa, said this narrative creates a stigma around mental health.

“Before we even know anything about the shooter or what was going on with them, it’s blamed on mental health. It's a mental health problem and that is very stigmatizing because it just perpetuates the idea that people, especially young males, with a serious mental illness are a dangerous people to be afraid of, and that just isn't the case,” Huppert said.

Huppert said the stigma created around theses incidents may be pushing people away from getting the help they need.

“We do have a mental illness problem in this country. We don't have enough services. We don't have enough programs and there’s still a very heavy stigma, so people don't come forward to get the help that they need. But we also have a gun problem. So when you combine the two things, the effect is 250 mass shootings in less than a year,” Huppert said.

Legislators have brought up "red flag" laws and other legislation as possible solutions, but mental health advocates say that’s not enough.

“The kind of weapon matters, the availability of it and in both these cases these young men had nothing in their backgrounds that even if there had been a background check conducted that would have said don't sell them a weapon because they have no criminal record, they had no diagnosis. So that then becomes a problem,” Huppert said.

Experts say seeing the news of violence over and over again affects people of all ages in different ways and it's important to talk about it.

“The more that we watch it, the more that it can be impacting our own brain functioning, and especially for kids we don't want to shelter them, we want to educate them. But they don't need to be seeing mass amounts of violence. That's not healthy,” said Jennifer Ulie-Wells, executive director for Please Pass the Love.

Mental health advocates say these incidents can have an affect on anyone, even if you're not directly impacted, and it's important to seek help and discuss the issue.

If you or someone you know needs help finding mental health services, you can call NAMI Iowa at 515-254-0417.

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