Effects of News Media Messages About Mass Shootings on Attitudes Toward Persons With Serious Mental Illness and Public Support for Gun Control Policies

American Journal of Psychiatry (Impact Factor: 13.56). 03/2013; 170(5). DOI: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2013.13010014
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT OBJECTIVE In recent years, mass shootings by persons with serious mental illness have received extensive news media coverage. The authors test the effects of news stories about mass shootings on public attitudes toward persons with serious mental illness and support for gun control policies. They also examine whether news coverage of proposals to prevent persons with serious mental illness from having guns exacerbates the public's negative attitudes toward this group. METHOD The authors conducted a survey-embedded randomized experiment using a national sample (N=1,797) from an online panel. Respondents were randomly assigned to groups instructed to read one of three news stories or to a no-exposure control group. The news stories described, respectively, a mass shooting by a person with serious mental illness, the same mass shooting and a proposal for gun restrictions for persons with serious mental illness, and the same mass shooting and a proposal to ban large-capacity magazines. Outcome measures included attitudes toward working with or living near a person with serious mental illness, perceived dangerousness of persons with serious mental illness, and support for gun restrictions for persons with serious mental illness and for a ban on large-capacity magazines. RESULTS Compared with the control group, the story about a mass shooting heightened respondents' negative attitudes toward persons with serious mental illness and raised support for gun restrictions for this group and for a ban on large-capacity magazines. Including information about the gun restriction policy in a story about a mass shooting did not heighten negative attitudes toward persons with serious mental illness or raise support for the restrictions. CONCLUSIONS The aftermath of mass shootings is often viewed as a window of opportunity to garner support for gun control policies, but it also exacerbates negative attitudes toward persons with serious mental illness.

  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: The phenomenon of mass shootings has emerged over the past 50 years. A high proportion of rampage shootings have occurred in the United States, and secondarily, in European nations with otherwise low firearm homicide rates; yet, paradoxically, shooting massacres are not prominent in the Latin American nations with the highest firearm homicide rates in the world. A review of the scientific literature from 2010 to early 2014 reveals that, at the individual level, mental health effects include psychological distress and clinically significant elevations in posttraumatic stress, depression, and anxiety symptoms in relation to the degree of physical exposure and social proximity to the shooting incident. Psychological repercussions extend to the surrounding affected community. In the aftermath of the deadliest mass shooting on record, Norway has been in the vanguard of intervention research focusing on rapid delivery of psychological support and services to survivors of the "Oslo Terror."Grounded on a detailed review of the clinical literature on the mental health effects of mass shootings, this paper also incorporates wide-ranging co-author expertise to delineate: 1) the patterning of mass shootings within the international context of firearm homicides, 2) the effects of shooting rampages on children and adolescents, 3) the psychological effects for wounded victims and the emergency healthcare personnel who care for them, 4) the disaster behavioral health considerations for preparedness and response, and 5) the media "framing" of mass shooting incidents in relation to the portrayal of mental health themes.
    Current Psychiatry Reports 09/2014; 16(9):469. DOI:10.1007/s11920-014-0469-5 · 3.05 Impact Factor
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Purpose This article describes epidemiological evidence concerning risk of gun violence and suicide linked to psychiatric disorders, in contrast to media-fueled public perceptions of the dangerousness of mentally ill individuals, and evaluates effectiveness of policies and laws designed to prevent firearms injury and mortality associated with serious mental illnesses and substance use disorders. Methods Research concerning public attitudes towards persons with mental illness is reviewed and juxtaposed with evidence from benchmark epidemiological and clinical studies of violence and mental illness and of the accuracy of psychiatrists’ risk assessments. Selected policies and laws designed to reduce gun violence in relation to mental illness are critically evaluated; evidence-based policy recommendations are presented. Results Media accounts of mass shootings by disturbed individuals galvanize public attention and reinforce popular belief that mental illness often results in violence. Epidemiological studies show that the large majority of people with serious mental illnesses are never violent. However, mental illness is strongly associated with increased risk of suicide, which accounts for over half of US firearms-related fatalities. Conclusion Policymaking at the interface of gun violence prevention and mental illness should be based on epidemiological data concerning risk, to improve the effectiveness, feasibility, and fairness of policy initiatives.
    Annals of Epidemiology 04/2014; DOI:10.1016/j.annepidem.2014.03.004 · 2.15 Impact Factor
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Objective: The study examined attitudes among Americans about policies to require insurance parity for mental health and substance abuse benefits and to increase government spending on mental health treatment. Methods: A Web-based public opinion survey was conducted with a national sample (N=1,517). Analyses examined how sociodemographic characteristics, political affiliation, personal experience with mental illness, and attitudes toward persons with mental illness were associated with policy support. Results: Sixty-nine percent supported insurance parity, and 59% supported increasing government spending. Democrats were more supportive than Republicans or Independents. Personal experience was associated with higher support for both policies, and stigmatizing attitudes were associated with less support. Conclusions: Most Americans favored policies to expand insurance and funding, but stigma was associated with lower support for both policies. This finding high-lights the importance of developing robust antistigma efforts, particularly in an era when mental illness is increasingly linked to dangerousness in news media portrayals.
    Psychiatric services (Washington, D.C.) 10/2014; 65(10):1265-8. DOI:10.1176/ · 1.99 Impact Factor