May 1, 2020 Blog
Mental Health Awareness Month
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time dedicated to raising awareness, fighting stigma, and discussing ways to support the millions of people living with mental illness and their families. This year, as we face the many challenges brought on by COVID-19, raising awareness about mental health is more essential than ever.
Opponents of gun safety laws often claim that gun violence is a mental health problem, arguing incorrectly that mental illness—not easy access to firearms—is at the root of the nearly 40,000 gun deaths each year.
The truth is people living with mental illness are far more likely to be the victim of gun violence than the perpetrator. Research shows that most mental health issues—anxiety, stress, depression, PTSD, and borderline personality disorder—have little association with gun violence. Access to guns, however, is strongly tied to aggressive firearm behavior. It makes sense then that while other similar countries experience the same level of mental illness as the United States, none experience anywhere near the same levels of gun violence.
Invoking mental health as a cause of gun violence stigmatizes mental illness and can interfere with individuals seeking treatment. Instead, policies can be adopted that remove the threat of firearms from at-risk individuals and allow time to seek treatment or recover safely.
In Washington state, for example, policies like Extreme Risk Protection Orders and voluntary waivers empower individuals or their loved ones to take action to temporarily remove the threat of firearms. These are effective suicide prevention safeguards. Similarly, our state has policies that prohibit firearm possession among individuals subject to involuntary 72 hour holds or individuals found incompetent to stand trial with a history of violent behavior.
Individuals in crisis in King County should call 866-427-4747 or text 2-1-1 to be connected to Crisis Connections. Outside King County, individuals should call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.