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Separating Myth from Fact: Unlinking Mental Illness and Violence and Implications for Gun Control Legislation and Public Policy

Volume 40 Masthead

Law Review article  to be published in the New England Journal of Criminal and Civil Confinement, Vol 40, May 2014:  Separating Myth from Fact: Unlinking Mental Illness and Violence and Implications for Gun Control Legislation and Public Policy (PDF) Laurie R. Martinelli, J.D., Executive Director, NAMI Mass; June S. Binney, Criminal Justice Project Director, NAMI Mass; and Rebecca Kaye, J.D.

 NAMI Mass Supports New Gun Bill and Releases Companion Article to Address Myths about Mental Illness and Violence Press Release (Word)

NAMI Mass Supports New Gun Bill and Releases Companion Article to Address Myths about Mental Illness and Violence


May 29, 2014

CHARLESTOWN, MASS – NAMI Mass thanks House Speaker Robert DeLeo and the Committee to Reduce Firearm Violence for their work shaping the gun bill introduced this week.

NAMI Mass Executive Director Laurie Martinelli says the organization supports this bill for several reasons, chief among them because it addresses suicide prevention and early identification and treatment of youth.

“There is a huge correlation between guns and suicide and this bill calls for increased education about suicide prevention in schools as well as the development of a suicide prevention curriculum for doctors who want to learn more about the connection,” said Martinelli. “We urge the legislature to approve this bill.”

NAMI Mass supports appropriations necessary to ensure schools have the resources to develop plans to address the mental health needs of their students and provide better channels of communication between schools and police.

Martinelli says the bill is also important because it would bring Massachusetts into compliance with National Instant Background Check System (NCIS) and calls for limiting the reporting of only those people who have been involuntarily committed after a court has found them dangerous to themselves or others due to mental illness.

As we are reminded by the recent mass killing in California, gun-related violence remains a tragic reality in the United States. Today, NAMI Mass is releasing an article called, Separating Myth from Fact, a comprehensive document examining the facts surrounding mental illness and violence, which is being published this week in the New England Journal on Criminal and Civil Confinement. The article draws on existing research from the Harvard School of Public Health, the National Institute of Mental Health and the American Journal of Medicine.

Among the primary points:

  • Persons with mental health diagnoses commit only 4-5% of all violent acts nationwide;
  • Access to guns was more instrumental in determining propensity for gun violence than mental illness;
  • The United States has the most guns per civilian, weakest gun laws, and highest rates of gun homicide and gun suicide;
  • In 2010, the number of gun deaths by suicide outnumbered homicides: 19,392 to 11,078.

“It’s important for people to recognize that if a person has mental illness, it does not mean he or she is more likely to commit an act of violence. People with mental illness are much more likely to be victims of violence than the perpetrators of it,” said Martinelli.

Media Contact:
Matt Ellis
Ellis Strategies, Inc.
matt@ellisstrategies.com | 617-278-6560

Massachusetts Aims To Reduce Stigma Around Mental Health

Official Seal of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

State Attorney General’s office press release (PRF)

Massachusetts will provide $8 million to 22 organizations offering mental and behavioral health services.

State Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office announced the Behavioral Health Grant program Tuesday. In a statement, Coakley says part of the effort is to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and substance abuse. With a two-year, $265,000 grant, the National Alliance on Mental Illness Massachusetts is launching an anti-stigma campaign. The organization has 20 chapters spread across the commonwealth. Laurie Martinelli is executive director.

“Stigma is the number one challenge NAMI faces in this field of mental illness,” Martinelli said. “Stigma surrounds the person who has the mental illness or substance abuse and may affect their ability to get treatment. So some people don’t want to get treatment so that is one facet of stigma. Stigma also can affect family members. Family members may not want to disclose that they have a family member with mental illness or substance abuse because society judges them so harshly.”

Videos will capture 200 personal stories of people who have experienced mental illness and its affects. Modeled after an effort last year by NAMI of Metro New York City, a separate website will be set up and additional videos will run on public television stations across the state. Here’s Martinelli.

“We hope the impact is by talking about stigma, which is really another word for discrimination, people will be able to overcome it and won’t be as hesitant to talk about the mental illness that they are dealing with themselves or with a family member,” said Martinelli.

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that one in four adults, approximately 58 million Americans, experience a mental health disorder in a given year. The World Health Organization has reported that four of the 10 leading causes of disability in the U.S. and other developed nations are mental disorders. Martinelli says mental illness and substance abuse are unlike many other diseases because those affected believe they did something to cause it.

“Parents who we work with often times come with a lot a guilt that ‘If only they had done this’ their son or daughter wouldn’t have mental illness,” Martinelli explained. “Of course that’s ridiculous because mental illness is a biological brain disorder. It’s not anything that any parent or anyone did or didn’t do.”

Dr. Alex Sabo chairs the psychiatry department at Berkshire Medical Central. He says when he was in medical school in the early 1980s; about 8 percent of his class was entering the field. Today it’s only about 2 percent, so more and more primary care doctors handle mental illness cases.

“I think a combination of probably some stigma in the society about mental illness and substance abuse as well as some of the economic formulas that have been used to address reimbursement have probably led fewer people to go into the field,” said Sabo.

The AG’s office awarded Pittsfield-based Berkshire Health Systems $500,000 to connect care providers and patients via a telepsychiatry network in rural Berkshire County. Sabo says about 12,000 people are seen by the county’s mental health doctors and organizations each year.

“With the telepsychiatry we will using it with some clinician on site in another part of the county who with then present a patient or client they are working to a doctor, it could be a clinical psychologist here, and the three of them could have a conversation,” explained Sabo.

The program uses money recovered by the state through a 2013 settlement with Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, resulting from illegal marketing charges.

Listen to an interview about this program on WAMC Northeast Public Radio


Thank you to the wonderful Volunteers & Staff for a GREAT NAMIWalk event May 10th!

There were over 100 volunteers and staff at the NAMIWalk at DCR Artesani Park in Brighton on Saturday, May 10, 2014! We can’t do it without them – make sure to thank them.

Volunteers at the Finish Line

Volunteers at the Finish line!

Peter Audier
Carol B
Ariel Baker
Marilyn Barrett
Kianna Barrett
David Barton
Guy Beales
Beatrice Benjamin
Lisa Boone
Mae Brown
Dave Burbank
Patty C.
Argo C.
Lingji C.
Louise Carcione
Ada Chai
Alex Cherkasov
Ilya Cherkasov
Cynthia Chu
Patrick Correa
Ann D. Coughlin
Mike Coulter
McKenna Cronin
Bruce Crowell
Angela D.

Volunteers at the First Aid Area including Boston EMS!

Volunteer at the First Aid Area including Boston EMS!

Ellen Daley
Marjorie de la Rosa
Larry DeAngelo
Tina DeAngelo
Marilyn DeSantis
Julia Dickinson
Peter Dizon
Lorna Doane
Hung Duong
Rebecca Ehrenkranz
Vanessa Ferla
Rubia Fernandes
Elizabeth Fong
Lucia Frost
Andy Furst
Nathan Furst
Abhi G.
Sid Gelb
Arianna Girard
Peter Girard
Robert Girard
Sheila Girard
Lee Goldberg
Kim Goldstein
Felipe Gonzalez
Julia Green
Lauren Grimes
Courtney Grimes
Karen Gromis
Beth Gurney
Katie Hardwick
Jonathan Harlow
Trudy Hoang
Diane Holden

Volunteers at the Finish line

Volunteers at the Finish line!

Jeffrey Huey
Katie Hunsader
Katharine Jane
Diane Joe
Helen K.
Alyssa Kane
Chris Khan
Christina Laguerre
Jackie Lake
Tommy Lam
Tim Lanagan
Julie Langbort

Volunteers at the registration

Volunteers at the Registration area

Roland Lavallee
Celia Lewis
Colin Light
Matthew Lina
Eric Livingstone
Jan Lui
Cara Lustig
Jessica Mander
Julianne Mander
Carol Marchetti
Nadia Mariano
Mike Mason
Dulce Matos
Karen McGravey-Gajera
John Menke
Nancy Meyer
Biruch Mezgehu
David Mitchell
Heather Morrissette
Ann Musheno
Michaela Nelson

Photo of Volunteers at the Food table

Volunteers at the Food table

Sophie Ni
Catherine O’Brien
Eugene Ornellas
Linda Ornellas
Amy Ouellette
Dinesh Patel
Palak Patel
Tom Peller
Zoe Petryk
Rita Purcell
Varun Ramani
Linda Rice
Emily Roberts
Nora Roche
Evan Rockefeller
Bill Rubin
Steve Shea
Merlyn Snyder
Nicole Solari

Photo of volunteers cheering

Volunteers cheering along the route!

Bonna Spicer
Gervase Spurlin
Caity Stuhan
Grace Sulesky
Karen Sulesky
Catherine Tice
Patrick Tiernan
Charles Tran
Dan Turcza
Mai U.
Katrina Valeri
Sandra Valeri
Shanelle Villegas
Murray W.
Jasmine Wang
Meghan Weichnik
John Wong
Abby Yanow
Christina Yee
Linden Yee
Luke Zhao

Volunteers at the T-Shirt Design Contest table

Volunteers at the T-Shirt Design Contest table

Nation’s Largest State Walk Aims To Stamp Out Stigma, Raise Critical Funds

Executive Director Laurie Martinelli was interviewed on Neighborhood Network News at BU about the NAMIWalk

Executive Director Laurie Martinelli was interviewed on Neighborhood Network News at BU about the NAMIWalk. Click the image to view the video


Individuals Share Personal Stories — Reasons to Hope, Reasons to Walk


Boston, MA—On Saturday, May 10, thousands of individuals living with mental illness along with family, friends and advocates from across the state will gather for the 11th Annual NAMIWalks Massachusetts fundraiser at Artesani Park in Boston (1255 Soldiers Field Road; across from Days Inn). Check-in is at 9:00 a.m.; the program begins at 10:15 a.m. and the Walk starts at 11:00 a.m.Walk-ins are welcome. For more information, visit www.namiwalks.org/massachusetts.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness of Massachusetts (NAMI Mass) is a nonprofit grassroots education, support and advocacy organization. Founded in 1982, NAMI Mass is the state’s voice on mental illness with 20 local chapters and more than 2,000 members. Its mission is to improve the quality of life for people with mental illnesses and their families by educating the public; fighting stigma, discrimination and stereotypes; and promoting recovery. The NAMIWalks Massachusetts fundraiser is crucial to the organization’s mission as it accounts for half of the annual budget revenue.

“The Walk is a stigma-free zone; a celebration of hope, dignity and recovery,” says NAMI Mass Executive Director Laurie Martinelli. “It’s essential to funding our programs and services—which help people find and access the support and treatment they need—and crucial to putting an end to stigma and the needless tragedies it can breed. Recovery is real, and people with mental illness can and do lead fruitful and productive lives, but only if they can access treatment without shame or fear.”

One of the ways the Walk aims to stamp out stigma is by communicating stories of hope from individuals with lived experience and family members like Eliza T. Williamson and Sheila Girard. For more than 20 years, Eliza has faced the demons of her mental illness. She’s come out the other side able to say, “I have this great life now that I never thought was possible.” Sheila Girard felt heartbroken, scared and alone when her son was diagnosed with a mental illness. Today, while her heart still aches for her son, she is no longer broken, frightened or alone. She credits NAMI Mass with making the difference. (Read their stories under Reasons to Hope, Reasons to Walk in the attached Fact Sheet.)

Since 2004, NAMI Mass has raised more than $3.6 million through its annual Walk, and has funneled that money directly into programs and services statewide. Walkers come from Worcester County to Cape Ann to Cape Cod and everywhere in between. In 2013 alone, more than 5,000 individuals participated and—together with the event sponsors—raised nearly $560,000, making it the most successful NAMIWalks fundraiser in the country for the fourth year in a row, and the second consecutive year above the half-million-dollar mark. 2014 marks the 11th Annual Walk, and NAMI Mass aims to raise $600,000.

Each year, nearly 60 million Americans experience a mental health disorder. One in 17 lives with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder. And 1 in 10 children and adolescents in the U.S. suffers from serious emotional and mental disorders that cause significant functional impairment in their day-to-day lives.

Click here to read the personal story of Eliza

Click here to read the personal story of Sheila

To contact a NAMI Mass representative contact: Laurie Martinelli at 800-370-9085 or lmartinelli@namimass.org