The shooting in Tucson, Arizona in 2011 heightened public awareness about mental illness gone untreated. It also put the conversation about risk of violence by people with histories of mental illness in front of the American public again. It wasn’t the first time. Every time there is a tragic act of violence on a subway, the knee jerk reaction is to pin the blame on mental illness. We decided it was time to fight the stigma – on behalf of our thousands of clients, and on behalf of all of those New Yorkers who are not our clients and whose voices are not heard.
Here’s the truth: people with mental illness are often the VICTIMS of violence, not the perpetrators. We took to the streets and rolled out our “Anti-stigma Campaign.” Like heart disease or diabetes, mental illness is not something to be ashamed of. We believe that human service providers everywhere need to do more to un-do the damage of stigma for those individuals with mental illness.
In the words of two individuals who live with us in our Supportive and Residential Apartment Programs in Brooklyn: “People with mental illness are not stupid – and people with mental illness are not out there on the streets committing crimes. We wish the public would realize that, because life is hard enough sometimes. If you could help get that message out there, we would really appreciate it.”