Colorado Shooting Starts Discussions About the Stigma of Mental Illness

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mom talking to childAfter the tragic shooting in Aurora, Colorado that left twelve people dead and over fifty wounded, mental illness and access to mental health treatment has become a hot topic.

While no official investigation has been launched into the mental health background of James Holmes, the man arrested for the shooting, news sites have already begun criticizing the lack of mental health screenings for individuals attempting to purchase firearms. According to, the four guns used in the attack—including one assault rifle—were legally purchased from Denver area stores in the past two months, along with over 6,000 rounds of ammunition purchased online. FBI background checks, required when purchasing a firearm, currently do not include information about mental illness, and some are questioning whether some violent attacks could have been prevented if such information was required. 

It’s not unusual for mental illness to become a hot topic following an act of violence. Often, as the Washington Times points out, mental illness is the first offered explanation, as seen in the discussions following the shootings in Tuscon, Arizona in 2011 and at Virginia Tech in 2007. In times of tragedy, our first response should not be to blame mental illness, but to advocate for increased access to mental health care and a reduction of stigma around mental illness. This is a time to talk to our friends and families, to reach out to our loved ones and remind them that we are there for them no matter what.

Our hearts go out to the victims of the attack and their families. To our readers who are parents and caretakers, we understand how hard it can be to talk to children about traumatic events, especially when kids can learn about breaking news from their friends and teachers. Try this article from the American Psychiatric Association for helpful suggestions for talking to children about this, or any other, traumatic or violent event. As always, our list of mental health hotlines, clinicians, and support groups is free and available on our website.

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