Miller helps promote clarity on mental health/school shootings issue

HARRISBURG, March 13 – Flanked by like-minded legislators and key advocates, state Rep. Dan Miller, D-Mt. Lebanon, today emceed a Capitol news conference that sought to put any link between mental health and school shootings in proper context. 

Miller and other participants stressed the need to discuss that relationship in a way that will not add to stigma or reinforce negative stereotypes, noting that the roughly 20 percent of the U.S. population with a mental health issue should not unjustly shoulder blame for all acts of school violence.

“Those of us who’ve been involved in the fight for parity, acceptance and support have come too far to allow any backsliding in the public’s perceptions of mental health,” Miller said. “The recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida, may have served as a catalyst for a larger discussion – a very important discussion at that – but our conversation needs properly tailored and addressed in an appropriate manner.”

State Rep. Mike Schlossberg, D-Lehigh, who has openly and poignantly discussed his personal battle against depression, said, "We need to change the conversation surrounding mental health. The simple truth is that those who suffer from mental illness are far more likely to be a victim of violence than a perpetrator. That being said, if we want to deal with mental illness, we need to create programs and funding streams that actually address their issues."

Tricia Carbaugh of the South Central Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention noted that while a significant percentage of the population will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime, “Most people with mental health issues do not engage in destructive behavior.”

Christine Michaels, CEO of the National Alliance on Mental Illness – Keystone Pennsylvania Chapter, said a person with a mental health problem is five times more likely to be murdered and 25 times more likely to be a victim of sexual assault. “If mental illness were wiped out today … 96 percent of the violence in America would continue,” she added.

Richard Edley, president and CEO of the Rehabilitation and Community Providers Association, said that when school shootings occur, the discussion quickly moves to the role of mental illness, but cautioned that “we should not be using mental illness as a scapegoat.”

State Reps. Tom Murt, Gene DiGirolamo, Jason Ortitay, Judy Ward, Pam Snyder and Jason Ortitay also participated in the news conference, held in the Capitol Media Center.