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Mental Health Stigma No Way to Fight Bigotry in US

Trump Again Scapegoats Psychosocial Disabilities After Mass Shootings

President Donald Trump speaks about the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, in Washington, August 5, 2019. © 2019 AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File

President Donald Trump responded to the horrific mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio by calling for the “reform” of mental health laws “to better identify mentally disturbed individuals, who may commit acts of violence.” He added that such people should be subject “when necessary [to] involuntarily confinement.” “Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun,” he said. But Trump’s response is based on false assumptions and prejudice.

There are no scientific studies linking someone’s mental health with their propensity to commit acts of violence. But by repeatedly pushing that connection, Trump is perpetuating stigma and feeding widespread prejudice that people with mental health conditions, or psychosocial disabilities, are prone to commit acts of violence. In fact, the vast majority of people with mental health conditions are not violent, but rather more likely to be victims of violence themselves.

People with actual or perceived mental health conditions are among the most stigmatized and marginalized in the US. Trump’s remarks do them a further disservice by using them as scapegoats for a serious problem in the country, as he has done with migrants, asylum seekers, and other vulnerable minorities.

Discriminating against people with disabilities won’t prevent the next El Paso or Dayton. Instead the Trump administration should listen to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which has urged governments to “protect their populations … against the risks posed by excessive availability of firearms.”

Calling for the involuntary commitment of people who have not committed any crime but simply because they have a disability is contrary to fundamental human rights and equal protection of the law. Trump should abandon that approach.

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