Online Program

Public attitudes about mental illness and support for gun policies affecting persons with mental illness following newtown

Monday, November 4, 2013 : 2:50 p.m. - 3:10 p.m.

Colleen Barry, PhD, MPP, Department of Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD
Emma McGinty, MS, Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD
Jon S. Vernick, JD, MPH, Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD
Daniel W. Webster, ScD, MPH, Center for Gun Policy and Research, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD
The horrific loss of life in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012 has prompted a national conversation about guns and mental illness. As policy-makers consider options to reduce gun violence, it is critical to understand public attitudes about a range of violence prevention policies that would affect persons with mental illness, and to understand how Americans view mental illness. We fielded two national public opinion surveys about gun policies affecting persons with mental illness (N=2,703) and public attitudes about mental illness (N=1,530) using different respondents to avoid priming effects. Survey completion rates were 69% and 70% respectively. For the gun policy survey, we over-sampled both gun owners and non-gun owners living in households with guns.

Results from the gun policy survey indicated broad public support for various policies aimed at prohibiting persons with mental illness from having guns. Sixty percent of Americans supported increasing spending on mental health treatment as a strategy to reduce gun violence. Results of the mental illness survey indicated ambivalent attitudes about mental illness among the American public. Majorities of Americans were unwilling to have a person with a serious mental illness as a co-worker or neighbor, but 56% agreed that persons with mental illness can get well with treatment and 69% favored requiring insurance companies to offer benefits for mental health services that are equivalent to benefits for other medical services. It is worth thinking carefully about how to implement effective gun violence prevention measures without exacerbating stigma or discouraging treatment seeking.

Learning Areas:

Public health or related laws, regulations, standards, or guidelines
Public health or related public policy
Public health or related research
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
Describe attitudes among the American public about gun policy and mental illness overall and within important subgroups. Assess policy options for curbing gun violence in light of public opinion data.

Keyword(s): Mental Illness, Firearms

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: Colleen L. Barry, PhD, MPP, is Associate Professor and Associate Chair for Research and Practice in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. Professor Barry’s research focuses on policy and regulation affecting often-stigmatized health conditions. Professor Barry received a Ph.D. in Health Policy from Harvard University and a masters degree in public policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.