NORTH CAROLINA, USA — Recent mass shootings across the country are sparking debates about gun control and stronger safety measures. Meanwhile, some are looking at the state of the country’s mental health as the root of these deadly attacks.
Mental health advocates say mixing the two is a recipe that does more harm than good, adding it is harmful to link mental illness to gun violence because doing so creates a stigma for people who live with mental illness.
If you or a loved one are facing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, there is help readily available. You can call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or chat with them online. There are also resources in North Carolina available here and in South Carolina available here.
They say it also diverts the spotlight from the larger issue of gun violence and mass shootings in the country.
"Anytime there's a mass shooting, the first thing that people say is, oh, that person is crazy," Fonda Bryant, a Charlotte-area mental health advocate, said.
She is pushing back at claims that the country’s mental health crisis is to blame for the tragic mass shootings happening across the country.
“What it's doing is… it's going to fuel self-medicating because people are going to self-medicate, instead of going to get help," she said. "Also, it's going to fuel the suicide rates."
People assume that to commit an act of mass violence that someone must be disturbed or mentally ill. Studies found that less than 5% of violence in the U.S. can be attributed to mental illness, according to the American Foundation For Suicide Prevention (AFSP).
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) also said mental illness is not the problem.
"People across the globe live with mental illness, but only in the U.S. do we have an epidemic of senseless and tragic mass shootings," NAMI continued to say. "Gun violence is a public health crisis. We urgently need common sense approaches to end gun violence in this country. We all want an end to this senseless violence and trauma, so we need to come together as a nation to find meaningful and sensible solutions."
AFSP added that people with mental health conditions are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of violence.
Bryant said it’s important to recognize that millions of people across the globe experience mental illness.
“One out of five adults, one out of five children have a mental health condition,” Bryant said. “That goes to the people who are lawmakers making these laws and things and wanting to criminalize people with mental health issues.”
She urges lawmakers to focus on stricter gun policies.
"I’d like to see them get rid of the AR-15s,” she expressed. “Why do we need a gun that can do so much damage? Why?”
North Carolina Senator Natasha Marcus supports mental health care but said access to guns is the biggest factor in mass shootings.
"We have to face the fact that America has too many guns, too many large-capacity magazines, and too much anger and hatred to solve it with just more mental health dollars,” Marcus said.
Bryant is committed to the fight to break down the walls and stigmas associated with mental illness.
"We're not violent, we just are in pain,” she said. “And our disease is in a different place than in our heart and our lungs, it just happens to be in the brain.”
It’s a battle she takes on every day.