Article

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.

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    • "First, in a 1996 study using national survey data from the former West Germany, Angermeyer and Matschinger [9] found that public desire for social distance from persons with schizophrenia increased after two highly publicized violent attacks on politicians by individuals who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Second , in a 2013 study using a national US sample, participants were randomly assigned to read a news story about a mass shooting reportedly committed by a man with mental illness or were assigned to a control group who did not read any news story [10]. Compared with the control group, participants who read the news story about a mass shooting reported significantly higher perceived dangerousness of, and desired social distance from, people with serious mental illness in general. "
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    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; 25(5). DOI:10.1016/j.annepidem.2014.03.004 · 2.15 Impact Factor
  • American Journal of Psychiatry 03/2013; 170(5). DOI:10.1176/appi.ajp.2013.13010045 · 13.56 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: OBJECTIVE In response to recent mass shootings, policy makers have proposed multiple policies to prevent persons with serious mental illness from having guns. The political debate about these proposals is often uninformed by research. To address this gap, this review article summarizes the research related to gun restriction policies that focus on serious mental illness. METHODS Gun restriction policies were identified by researching the THOMAS legislative database, state legislative databases, prior review articles, and the news media. PubMed, PsycINFO, and Web of Science databases were searched for publications between 1970 and 2013 that addressed the relationship between serious mental illness and violence, the effectiveness of gun policies focused on serious mental illness, the potential for such policies to exacerbate negative public attitudes, and the potential for gun restriction policies to deter mental health treatment seeking. RESULTS Limited research suggests that federal law restricting gun possession by persons with serious mental illness may prevent gun violence from this population. Promotion of policies to prevent persons with serious mental illness from having guns does not seem to exacerbate negative public attitudes toward this group. Little is known about how restricting gun possession among persons with serious mental illness affects suicide risk or mental health treatment seeking. CONCLUSIONS Future studies should examine how gun restriction policies for serious mental illness affect suicide, how such policies are implemented by states, how persons with serious mental illness perceive policies that restrict their possession of guns, and how gun restriction policies influence mental health treatment seeking among persons with serious mental illness.
    Psychiatric services (Washington, D.C.) 07/2013; 65(1). DOI:10.1176/appi.ps.201300141 · 1.99 Impact Factor
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