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Stigma has been a long-standing problem working against people with mental illnesses, and some might argue that it has only increased after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Dec. 14, 2012.
Some of the general public have expressed an increasing fear of both guns and people with mental illnesses, and disorders like Asperger’s syndrome or autism.
Although it’s only guesswork at this time, the shooter Adam Lanza was thought to have some type of disorder, such as autism or schizophrenia, according to various sources.
Many experts, however, have spoken out about the harm that unofficial and (most likely) inaccurate mental health diagnoses of the shooter can have on people currently living with mental illnesses and other disorders.
For example, an article in Time Magazine online discussed a potential backlash against children with autism. In fact, the article described a situation where a child informed his classmates that the shooter killed little children because he had autism. However, experts point out that autism is not generally associated with violent behavior.
Elizabeth Waterman, a psychologist at Morningside Recovery Center, said in an email that there has been a focus on mental illness as a result of the recent mass shooting.
“People are quick to try to find blame for tragedies and it seems the issue of mental illness became a focus of blame for the shootings,” Waterman said.
“Discussing these tragedies as the result of many factors working together would be helpful rather than focusing on one or two factors as major talking points in the media.”
She said that one of the most important facts to know about mental illness, considering the recent tragedy, is that “mental illness does not ‘make’ a person dangerous.”
If the general public knew more facts in general about mental illnesses, it could help prevent stigma, but the effort to spread this information everywhere can be difficult and expensive.
Fortunately, Waterman doesn’t believe there will be a backlash against people with mental illness to the point of rights being restricted as a result of the shooting.