Don’t perpetuate myths about mental illness

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I am dismayed by the PG’s persistence in citing “mental illness” as the primary precursor to the murderous rampages all too prevalent in our current culture. It is our human nature to seek reasons for horrific acts that we cannot comprehend; it is human nature to assign “simple” answers to highly complex situations. Doing so provides us with a sense of control and the illusory promise that if we assign a simple cause, we will be safe. We can diagnose and cut out the disease. But human behavior cannot and should not be reduced to categorical explanations.

Most important, when you print the headline “Mental Illness Cited in Attack at Base” (April 4), you perpetuate the myth that people with mental illnesses are dangerous and threatening. You promote the shame still associated with having a mental illness. Extensive, well-designed, well-respected research indicates that occurrences of violence are more likely rooted in socioeconomic and -demographic factors exacerbated by substance abuse. This is true whether people who perpetrate violence also live with mental illness or not.

Furthermore, people living with mental illness are more often victims rather than perpetrators of violence. And most often these individuals are productive, invaluable members of our communities. To reverse the tide of unfathomable violence, more research and coordinated efforts are necessary to address intricate social, economic, spiritual and health issues. To suggest otherwise is irresponsible and destructive.

Penn Hills

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