Mental Health Advocates Seek Distance from Gun Control Issue; White House Event No Longer Tied to Legislation

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 3, 2013 | Go to article overview

Mental Health Advocates Seek Distance from Gun Control Issue; White House Event No Longer Tied to Legislation


Byline: Dave Boyer, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

President Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden will host a mental-health conference at the White House on Monday but, after an outcry from advocacy groups, the administration is no longer billing the meeting as part of its effort to enact gun control legislation.

Just two weeks ago, the White House described the conference as part of Mr. Obama's plan to reduce violence in the wake of December's Sandy Hook school massacre in Newtown, Conn. But on Friday, when White House deputy press secretary Joshua Earnest previewed the meeting for reporters, he never mentioned the words gun violence.

Instead, Mr. Earnest said the conference will address how we can all work together to reduce stigma and help the millions of Americans struggling with mental health problems recognize the importance of reaching out for assistance.

The meeting will include state and local officials, mental-health advocates, educators, health care providers, faith leaders and people who suffer from mental illnesses.

The head of a mental-health advocacy group who will attend the conference said the administration is making a conscious effort to downplay possible links between mental illness and gun violence.

I think it's been decoupled, the gun violence phenomenon that has received so much attention post-Sandy Hook, said Wayne Lindstrom, CEO of Mental Health America, a nonprofit group based in Alexandria. He said mental-health advocates have discouraged the administration from drawing a link.

The literature is pretty clear that those with mental illnesses are much more likely to be victims of violence than they are to perpetuate it, Mr. Lindstrom said. Typically, if somebody who's mentally ill is to engage in violent behavior, it's usually because they have not been treated and there's a [combination with] an addiction.

When he and other mental-health advocates met with Mr. Biden's gun violence task force last winter, Mr. Lindstrom said, one of our messages was that we didn't need another presidential commission or task force to study these issues. …

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