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Explaining and Addressing Violence in our Communities

November 12, 2017


The recent mass shooting at a Texas church, and comments that followed by President Trump and others, have fueled a harmful narrative that gun violence is directly connected to mental illness.

Fortune: Is Mental Illness to Blame? Here's What the Facts Say

CNN: Gun Violence, More Complicated than 'Mental Health Problem'
NPR: Texas Shooter's History Raises Questions

Research has demonstrated that there is no real link between an individual with a mental health diagnosis and mass shootings. Mass shootings in America carried out by people with serious mental illness represent less than 1% of all yearly gun-related homicides, according to the study Gun Violence and Mental Illness.

In fact, “people with severe mental illness are more than 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population,” the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services tells us. 

Hospitals treat the victims of gun violence every day.  And they can be the site of gun violence, as the tragic shooting at Dartmouth Hitchcock demonstrated just a couple months ago. The human toll of this violence is incalculable, and there are monetary costs too: In 2016, hospitals spent $2.7 billion on preventing and managing violence, including:

  • $280 million related to preparedness and prevention
  • $852 million in unreimbursed medical care for victims of violence
  • $1.1 billion in security and training costs to prevent violence within hospitals, and
  • $429 million in medical care, staffing, indemnity, and other costs as a result of violence against hospital employees.

This data came from a July report prepared by Milliman for the American Hospital Association’s ‘Hospitals Against Violence’ program, which works to reduce violence in our communities and help staff members when violence has impacted their lives.

As hospitals work in their communities to prevent violence, they are also at the table on improving Vermont’s mental health system to ensure that it serves patients compassionately and effectively.

Last year, the state Legislature passed Act 82, which instructed the Vermont Department of Mental Health to closely examine the mental health care system and care coordination. Vermont hospitals have been working closely with DMH and others to help identify the sources of current problems—including patients forced to wait in Emergency Department—and develop the right set of responses to make meaningful progress. 

It is important that all of us, when discussing violence or mental health, be careful how we speak, the words we choose and the accusations we inadvertently level. These are vitally important but also delicate conversations. Each of us can help steer them in the right way by staying informed and correcting harmful misinformation. 

Learn more about the work being done to address the mental health crisis in Vermont.