Accuracy in Media

It’s unlikely Nikolas Cruz is watching a lot of television these days as he awaits trial in the deaths of the 17 people shot at a high school in Parkland, Fla.

According to CNN, it’s a good thing because some of the things President Trump and others have been saying could be damaging to his mental health.

Trump called the perpetrator a “savage sicko.” Dana Loesch, a spokesperson for the National Rifle Association, called him “an insane monster” who is “nuts” and “crazy.”

A CNN story headlined, “Trump’s language on school shooter’s mental health could be harmful, experts say,” acknowledged he does have some mental health problemes. Cruz “struggled with depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism, according to a 2016 Florida Department of Children and Families report,” it reported.

But “having a mental health diagnoses does not mean he would become violent,” CNN wrote. The relevance of this is not clear given neither the president nor Loesch likely would have mentioned Cruz ever in their lives had he not become violent.

The problem is that using phrases such as “sicko” to describe the people who shoot up schools will discourage them from getting the mental health help they need.

“When it comes to mental health, language really matters,’” said Ron Honberg, a senior policy adviser with the National Alliance on Mental Health. “This is not about being politically correct. It’s about wanting to do everything we can to encourage people to get health treatment that works.”

“Hearing language like this is a punch to the gut, particularly if we have a goal as a nation to increase access to mental health care. This is about the worst thing you can do.”

Pat Corrigan, a distinguished professor of psychology at the Illinois Institute of Technology who runs the National Consortium on Stigma and Empowerment, was equally horrified by Trump’s remarks.

“How helpful is calling a black person the N-word?” Corrigan asked. “Not only is it disrespectful, it fans racism. Using such language when it comes to people with mental illness is the height of disrespect and the height of ignorance, as it reduces some hugely complex person down to a diagnosis.”

In addition, he said it is “wrong for a politician to use someone like Cruz – or Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza or any other school shooters – to imply that someone with a mental illness diagnosis is more likely to be dangerous or violent.”

Research shows “the greater majority of people with a mental illness will never be violent,” according to the story, and they are “more likely to be victims of violence.” Corrigan contended other factors, such as age, gender and ethnicity, are much greater factors.

The story then quoted the head of the American Psychological Association as saying it is important to keep gun policy separate from mental health policy.

“’Science shows the most consistent and powerful predictor of future violence is a history of violent behavior, not a diagnosable – or diagnosed – mental illness,’” CNN quoted the APA head as saying.

But it’s not Trump or Loesch who brought up mental illness. It’s not Trump or Loesch who suggested violent behavior could be predicted in the mentally ill or anyone else. All they said was that a man who shoots 17 school kids to death is a “sicko.”

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