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News Coverage of Shootings May Boost Stigma of Mental Illness

THURSDAY, March 21 (HealthDay News) -- Media coverage of mass shootings by people with mental illnesses may heighten the stigma that already surrounds people struggling with mental disorders, a new study suggests.

The researchers also found that public support for policies to reduce gun violence rises after news coverage of mass shootings. Specifically, people who read a news story describing a mass shooting were more likely than those who did not read such an article to support gun restrictions for people with serious mental illness, and for a ban on large-capacity ammunition magazines.

"The aftermath of mass shootings is often viewed as a window of opportunity to garner support for policies to reduce gun violence, and this study finds public support for such policies increases after reading news stories about a mass shooting," study lead author Emma McGinty, a doctoral candidate with the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, said in a Hopkins news release.

"However, we also found that the public's negative attitudes toward persons with serious mental illness are exacerbated by news media accounts of mass shootings involving a shooter with mental illness," she added.

The findings are from an online survey of nearly 1,800 American adults and appear in the April issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

The researchers said their study results are important for advocates and lawmakers who promote gun safety policies.

"While our study confirms news stories on mass shootings involving a shooter with mental illness contribute to negative perceptions of mental illness, our study results indicate that discussions of gun policies designed to keep firearms from individuals who have a serious mental illness do not lead to greater stigma," study co-author Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, said in the news release.

"As states across the U.S. consider restrictions on gun access among those with serious mental illness, future research should examine whether such policies deter people with mental illness from seeking treatment," he added.

Previous research has shown that most people with serious mental illness are not violent, and that the association between serious mental illness and gun violence is complicated and affected by factors such as substance abuse, the study authors noted.

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The National Alliance on Mental Illness offers facts about mental illness.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, news release, March 20, 2013

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