Coverage of mass shootings heightens negative attitudes about mental illness

New research from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health suggests that media coverage of mass shootings involving a shooter with mental illness heighten negative attitudes toward people with serious mental illness.

Reading a news article describing a mass shooting raised readers' support for both gun restrictions for persons with serious mental illness, and for a ban on large-capacity ammunition magazines, researchers found. The results of the study will be published in the April issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry and have important implications for advocates and policy makers who promote gun safety policy.

"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," said Beth McGinty, lead study author and a PhD candidate with the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.

McGinty and colleagues used a national online sample of 1,797 adults in the United States for their research.

A public opinion survey conducted earlier this year by the same researchers found a large degree of ambivalence among Americans on the topic of mental illness and guns: Almost half of respondents believed that people with serious mental illness are more dangerous than members of the general population, but less than a third believed that locating a group residence for people with mental illness in a residential neighborhood would endanger area residents. Two-thirds (61 percent) of respondents supported increased government spending on mental health care as a strategy for reducing gun violence.

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