Stop Stigmatizing the Mentally Ill as Violent

Target: Adam Moss, Editor in Chief of New York magazine

Goal: Stop media correlation of violence with mental illness and end negative stereotypes against the mentally ill.

The news media often falsely equates mental illness with violence. A new study in Health Affairs discovered that over 55 percent of news stories about mental illness associated it with violence toward others. The actual amount of violence in the United States that results from mental illness is less than five percent.

This misconception causes people to negatively stereotype the mentally ill. This stereotyping makes it harder for people with mental illness to seek help and go about their daily lives. Urge the media to end this false association and represent people with mental illness fairly.

The study in Health Affairs looked at a group of news stories from 1995 to 2014 and found that during that time narratives linking mental illness with violence had risen significantly. From 2005 to 2014, stories relating mental illness to mass shootings increased by 22 percent.

A New York magazine article about the recent shooting of a professor in Los Angeles said, “Police do not know for sure yet if Sarkar [the shooter] had a history of mental illness.” If police do not know if the perpetrator has a mental illness, then it is not relevant information to put in the article. Reporting like this creates the myth that violence arises from mental illness. In reality, people with mental illness are four times more likely to have an act of violence committed against them than mentally healthy people.

Negative stereotyping of mentally ill people is a serious issue and should be treated as such. The effects of this stigmatization on the mentally ill include  decreased social or work opportunities and even violence. Tell media outlets like New York magazine to stop relating mental illness to violence and prevent the stigmatization of those who suffer from it.


Dear Mr. Adams,

Media outlets like New York magazine need to stop correlating mental illness with violence and make a serious effort to portray mental illness accurately. A recent study by Health Affairs shows that while less than five percent of violence is related to mental illness, 55 percent of news stories about mental illness are linked with violence. This misleading representation leads to stigmatization of people with mental illness. Tell your writers and editors to disassociate mental illness with the violence that research shows it isn’t linked to.

News stories equating mental illness with mass gun violence have gone up 22 percent from 2005 to 2014. In a story about the recent professor shooting in Los Angeles, New York magazine stated that, “Police do not know for sure yet if [the shooter] had a history of mental illness.” Because there was no evidence linking mental illness to the shooting, it should not have been brought up in connection with it.

Stigmatization has serious consequences for the mentally ill. It can cause a reluctance to get help, lack of social or work opportunities, and even physical abuse. Mentally ill people are four times more likely to be victims of violence than those without a mental illness.

New York magazine has a wide circulation with 1.8 million people reading it every week. Make sure those people are getting the right information and end negative stereotyping of the mentally ill.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Andrew Mason

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