Coloradans living with mental illness say comments after El Paso, Dayton mass shootings further stigmatize

By: Jessica Seaman

August 8, 2019

Once again, as the nation reels in the aftermath of back-to-back mass shootings, mental health is a focus of discussion, with President Donald Trump on Wednesday saying of the perpetrators: “These are people that are really mentally ill, mentally disturbed.”

“It’s a mental problem,” Trump said — echoing comments by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and others — before flying to Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, cities where gunmen killed 31 people and injured dozens more in two separate shooting sprees over the weekend.

But Coloradans living with mental illnesses say such comments further stigmatize them, while shifting the conversation away from topics such as guns and racism. Medical experts agree.

“It’s like I’m being painted with a broad brush,” said Denver resident Karisa Hunt, who said she has anxiety and depression.

“It’s already something I don’t disclose to people unless I need to, and now I feel like I want to do it even less,” she said. “I’m the least likely person in the world to hurt anyone.”

The first of the two shootings, Saturday at a Walmart in El Paso, is being investigated by the FBI as a hate-motivated domestic-terror case as authorities work to confirm a racist, anti-immigrant manifesto was posted online by the suspect.

The shooting that followed early Sunday in Dayton does not have a known racial motivation, investigators have said, but federal authorities are looking into evidence the shooter researched “violent ideologies” before the attack.

Most individuals with mental illnesses are not violent, mental health experts said, adding that they are more likely to be targets of violence than perpetrators.

“When these kind of instances happen, our conversations really shouldn’t be about mental illness, they should be about the messages that people are getting about other people,” said Sarah Davidon, research director with Mental Health Colorado. “The messages people are getting about immigration, about the acceptability of intolerance.”

As the president arrived in Dayton on Wednesday, protesters gathered to denounce his rhetoric, which they say has inflamed racial tension in the country and may have influenced the shooting in El Paso — allegations Trump has denied.

When racially driven attacks occur, Davidon said, it “creates a culture of fear for many people.”

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