Mental illness shouldn't be a scapegoat for violence, experts say

Nov 10, 2017

Following the mass shooting in a Texas church Sunday, some public comments essentially made mental illness the scapegoat for the tragedy. However, a local expert says that is harmful in many ways.

Ken Houseknecht, Executive Director of the Mental Health Association of Erie County, says linking the Texas church shooting to mental illness sends the wrong message.

Law enforcement officials investigate at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs in Texas on Monday.
Credit National Public Radio

"To not only people who have been diagnosed with a mental health condition, but it sends the wrong message to people who maybe haven't yet been diagnosed and it sends the wrong message to the community in general that this is what mental illness looks like," says Houseknecht. "It looks like awful people doing terrible things."

But Houseknecht says that is not the reality at all.

"The reality is the vast majority of people dealing with mental health conditions are doing so successfully, they're living happy lives, they're living productive lives," he says.

In fact he says one in five Americans are living with a diagnosable mental health condition.

"You probably encounter people like that every single day, in your place of work, in your neighborhood, in your place of worship, in your schools, in every area of your life and you don't even know that they're addressing a mental health issue," Houseknecht says, "because they're doing so successfully and have been for many, many years."

Houseknecht says broad statements just reinforce the stigma around mental health. The fact is he says people with severe mental illness are over 10 times more likely to be victims of crime, not the perpetrators of crime.