DBSA Statement on President Obama’s Gun Control Proposal

The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) applauds the inclusion of increased access to mental health care within President Obama’s recent gun control proposal. Greater understanding of and access to mental health screening and treatment, along with necessary clarifications to and investments in the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, are vital for our nation’s health.

Together with millions of Americans, DBSA deplores gun violence and violence in general, and we are invested in the prevention of shocking tragedies like those at Newtown, Aurora, Oak Creek, and Tucson. Yet DBSA is also deeply concerned about the seeming conflation of mental health issues and violence in the media and within public discourse.

As the President’s gun control plan explicitly states, the percentage of people with mental health conditions committing gun violence in America is very small. In fact, people experiencing mental health symptoms are more likely to be the victims of violence than perpetrators, and are more likely to use guns to die by suicide than to use guns against others. Yet much of the current talk about gun control focuses on individuals with mental health conditions and the perception of them as potential threats for gun violence. Such media- and government-endorsed associations between violence and mental health conditions increase prejudice and stigma. So while we wholly support efforts to reduce gun violence, we contend that we as a society must be cautious about restricting the rights of people because of a health condition or disability.

Access to mental health care and gun responsibility laws are important, but we at DBSA additionally contend that a larger conversation needs to take place that focuses on prevention. There are many such programs already in place around the country and around the world, but developing and implementing them broadly are more difficult. We must respond urgently to the unspeakable Newtown tragedy, as the President has done, yet we must also remain committed to the long process of evolving the nation’s access to mental healthcare, the quality of that care, and the attitudes we have about people who need help to achieve wellness.

DBSA looks forward to working within the mental health community and with the public at large to continue an important dialogue about reducing and eliminating violence—and to work collaboratively to improve access to quality mental health care.