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A Big Victory in Reversing Stigma

For a long time, people in the general populace have assumed that those plagued by mental illness are dangerous. That attitude has spilled out in books, movies, newspapers, ad nauseum. Almost nobody knew the long proven psychological fact that we are LESS likely to be violent.

Two things have happened which will go a long way to turning that around. On March 5 in a publication listed only as BMJ, a Swedish study conducted by a Stanford researcher, Casey Crump, cited proof that people who have or have had psychiatric disorders are in fact more likely to be victims of homicides rather than perpetrators - up to 5 times more likely! They used national registries to determine how many victims of homicide had been diagnosed with a mental illness and found the incidence was 23%, compared with a rate of 9% in the general population. A brief but clear article can be found in Time at the following address: http://healthland.time.com/2013/03/07/mental-illness-increases-risk-of-being-homicide-victim/

Within days - apparently not as a result of this study, but through the efforts of California Mental Health Services Authority and the Entertainment Industries Council - the Associated Press  issued new guidelines for its AP Stylebook, which is hugely influential in the industry. The stylebook now says, in brief, that mental illness is not necessarily to be looked for or reported about in violent crimes unless it truly is a factor, which they have determined only from the proper sources. No more assuming, “This guy must be crazy,” and running off to look for proof. The press release can be found here: http://www.ap.org/Content/Press-Release/2013/Entry-on-mental-illness-is-added-to-AP-Stylebook. The National Association of Broadcasters has made a follow up statement which you can find here: http://www.nab.org/documents/newsRoom/pressRelease.asp?id=2886

The press release reads, in part, “Do not use derogatory terms, such as insane, crazy/crazed, nuts or deranged, unless they are part of a quotation that is essential to the story.
 
"Do not assume that mental illness is a factor in a violent crime, and verify statements to that effect. A past history of mental illness is not necessarily a reliable indicator. Studies have shown that the vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent, and experts say most people who are violent do not suffer from mental illness.”

This is truly good news for the rest of us, and will doubtless lead, in the long run, to decreased fear and stigma about psychiatric disorders. There’s not a word I need to add to good news like this.

Deborah is the author of Is There Room for Me, Too? 12 Steps & 12 Strategies for Coping with Mental Illness, available at Amazon and other major vendors. Visit her web page at www.lafruche.net, or see her catalog at www.lastlaughproductions.net.