Our hearts broke on Friday (December 14, 2012) as we learned of the tragic and senseless deaths of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
As we reflect on this terrible tragedy, we most likely will experience a wide range of emotions and reactions. But as we experience these strong reactions and morn the victims of this horrific tragedy, it is imperative that commentators and the media avoid drawing inappropriate and unfounded links between disabilities and violence. The causes of violence are complex and takes its toll on individuals, families, and communities throughout the United States. No one is immune to violence. It affects people across the lifespan—from infants to the elderly. People with mental illnesses are no more violent than people without mental illnesses (see resources below). Yet, these kinds of tragic events unfairly and harmfully target people with mental illnesses as inherently dangerous. In fact, individuals with disabilities, including mental illness, not only share the nation’s horror at these events, but also bear the additional weight of false stereotypes and discrimination needlessly reinforced by these perceptions.
When asked what the top issue facing people with disabilities in the Freedom Resource Center catchment area is, the answer consistently has been “prejudices against people with disabilities, especially unseen disabilities.” Even though we are outraged by the violence that has been inflicted on innocent children and adults, our society should not further stigmatize the disability community. Whenever there is a tragedy like this (and there have been too many) our great nation has come together. It’s time for all of us to come together, to look at the fundamental causes of violence, and try to find a solution so that we don’t have to morn another Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. We must engage in a dialogue that is free of blame and finger pointing. We must find a way to engage in a dialogue that is free from the scourge of stigma and prejudice.
Wishing the families of Sandy Hook Elementary School and the community of Newtown, Connecticut peace and well-being.
PS: Remember to hold the one’s you love just a little closer and tighter this week, this month, and this year.
Resources for the information on violence and mental illness include:
APA Council on Law and Psychiatry
ASAN: Autistic Self-Advocacy Network
NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Health
CDC: Center’s for Disease Control and Prevention
CMHA: Canadian Mental Health Association