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Statement by Paul Gionfriddo, MHA president and CEO, Regarding Donald Trump’s Recent Comments on Mental Illness

Written by Bruce Cruser

Bruce Cruser has been Executive Director of Mental Health Virginia since 2016, bringing a background in social work and community corrections, and many years of leadership experience in local and state government.

August 16, 2019

MHA’s national CEO, Paul Gionfriddo, issued the following statement regarding Donald Trump’s Recent Comments on Mental Illness:

By: Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO, Mental Health America

August 16, 2019

“Yesterday, President Trump suggested once again that the solution to violence in America is to put more people with mental illnesses into institutions. There are so many flaws in this logic.

“First, hate is not a mental illness. And people who hate should never be allowed to hide behind people with mental illnesses.

“Second, violence does not come hand-in-glove with mental illness. Some people who are violent have a mental illness. But most people with mental illnesses will never have a violent thought in their lives. And most people who engage in acts of violence don’t have a mental illness.

“Third, we already institutionalize far too many people with mental illnesses. Our jails and prisons are overflowing with them.

“Fourth, our need for more services for people with mental health conditions – more job supports, educational supports, social supports, family supports, community supports, and even more health care beds – should never be reduced to “institutionalizing” them.

“Fifth, people with mental illnesses are more frequently the victims of violence than the perpetrators. Perhaps we should focus our wrath on the perpetrators of violence and those who would egg them on.

“Finally, mental illness doesn’t cause violence, but violence causes mental illness. What are we doing for the living victims of the recent violent attacks, who are so soon forgotten by most public officials?

“There are more reasons, too, but the bottom line is this: When Clifford W. Beers, the founder of the modern mental health advocacy movement, said more than one hundred years ago that ‘I must fight in the open,’ he shed light on systemic failures and abuses that had been hidden behind institutional doors for decades. No reasoned person would want to go back there.

“We need to start seriously investing in mental health services and supports for all – from childhood through adulthood – when mental health concerns first emerge, before crises occur, before Stage 4. And we need our public officials, including the President, to stop scapegoating people with mental health conditions. That’s a 19th century solution to a 21st century challenge.”

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