Thursday, September 3, 2015

Kenneth Cole Billboard Fuels Harmful Stigma

Last week, fashion designer Kenneth Cole posted a billboard linking gun violence with mental illness.

“Mr. Cole’s statement on gun reform creates a misleading impression that people who suffer from mental illness are violent,” APA President Renée Binder, M.D., wrote in her blog today about the billboard. “This is a disappointing misrepresentation of the facts and only serves to further stigmatize those suffering from mental illness.”

In reality, the vast majority of mentally ill people are not violent, and most violent acts are committed by people who are not mentally ill, pointed out Binder. People with serious mental illness are 11 times more likely to be victims of a violent crime in the past year than the general population.

“The numbers simply do not bear out what Mr. Cole implies on his billboard,” Binder continued. “But he does get one thing right: many Americans with mental health issues don’t get the help they need.”

Barely two out of five adults with mental illness receive needed treatment.

“The right answer here is to get people with mental illness treatment, not marginalize them, especially when stigma is one of the biggest barriers preventing people from receiving care,” wrote Binder.

The Affordable Care Act and the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act together are helping address many of these barriers, she said. Lowering barriers to care will help get people in treatment earlier and help prevent many of the disabling aspects of mental illness.

Sharing APA’s outrage over the billboard was the New York State Psychiatric Association, which represents APA members in the state of New York.

Under the Twitter hashtag of #givestigmatheboot, APA responded to Cole’s statement with a series of messages to set the record straight. “1 in 4 people with serious mental illness has been the victim of a violent crime in the past year” and “Disappointed with @mr_kennethcole for linking gun violence, mental illness. Follow us to get the facts. #givestigmatheboot” were two of APA’s tweets.

APA members who would like to participate in the social media campaign are urged to join the conversation at #givestigmatheboot.

“We are advocates for reform on this issue, but suggesting that a vulnerable, stigmatized segment of the population is the cause is ignorant, dangerous, and patently false,” concluded Binder.


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