Most people with mental illness are not violent. In fact, people with mental illness are more likely to be the victims of violence. Research on the relationship between mental illness and violence shows that there are certain factors that may increase risks of violence among a small number of individuals with mental illness. These factors include:
- Co-occurring abuse of alcohol or illegal drugs
- Past history of violence
- Being young and male
- Untreated psychosis
The best way to reduce this risk is through treatment. Yet fewer than one-third of adults and half of children with a diagnosed mental illness receive mental health services in a given year.
Where NAMI Stands
We recognize that acts of violence by people with mental illness are usually the result of lack of needed mental health services. Policies and programs must be available and accessible which provide access to:
- Early identification and intervention
- Appropriate treatment and support
- Integrated treatment when there is co-occurring substance abuse
- Family education and support
- Crisis intervention
Creating new federal or state gun laws based on mental illness could have the effect of creating more barriers to people being willing to seek treatment and help when they need it most. Solutions to gun violence associated with mental illness lie in improving access to treatment, not in preventing people from seeking treatment in the first place.
Federal and state gun reporting laws should be based on these identified traits, not mental illness. NAMI believes that federal standards about people with mental illness being included in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) should be changed.
- Inclusion should be based on current scientific knowledge about what may increase risks of violence among persons with mental illness.
- States should be provided with clear guidance about who should be reported and who should not be reported.
- The highly offensive and outdated wording currently in the NICS reporting law, specifically individuals “adjudicated as being mentally defective,” should be eliminated.
- Establishing strong safeguards to protect the privacy of individuals whose names are included in federal and state gun reporting databases to make sure that the identities of such individuals are not shared or used for any other purposes.
What NAMI Is Doing
NAMI advocates for the federal government and states should fund programs focused on early identification, early intervention and evidence-based mental health treatments. Investment in research to better identify traits that predict gun violence is also necessary.
How You Can Help
We are a grassroots organization. We rely on people like you to advocate for these services in your community. Connect with your local NAMI to help advocate for funding and create opportunities for partnerships with other community organizations.