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National Coalition of People with Psychiatric Histories Responds to Virginia Tech Tragedy

A national coalition composed of groups run by mental health consumers and psychiatric survivors issues a statement to the media.

WASHINGTON (4/20/07) - The National Coalition of Mental Health Consumer/Survivor Organizations an organization of people with psychiatric histories, asks that everyone learn from the tragic events at Virginia Tech, in which a student was responsible for 33 deaths, including his own.

"We offer sincere sympathy to the families and friends of those killed and injured, including the family of Cho Seung Hui, as well as the entire Virginia Tech community," said Lauren Spiro, the Coalition's director of public policy. "We urge everyone to think compassionately about how to better engage people who are isolated, severely distressed, fearful and/or confused."

"Let's turn this crisis into an opportunity to understand more about mental health and create a more healthy and peaceful community," said Coalition member Can Truong. The Coalition endorses this approach and the importance of supporting one another, and promotes peer-run mental health education, awareness and advocacy organizations such as Active Minds on Campus.

The Coalition also applauds Mental Health America for urging the public to avoid diagnosing others or engaging in "profiling" of groups such as those who appear to be foreign-born or people with psychiatric diagnoses.

"Reacting with judgment and labeling, fueled by the media, perpetuates misinformation and is a disservice to us all," said Spiro.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health in September 2002, "Violent crimes committed by psychiatric patients become big headlines and reinforce the social stigma and rejection felt by many individuals who suffer from mental illness. But our findings suggest that serious violence is the rare exception among all people with psychiatric disorders. The public perception that people who are mentally ill are typically violent is unfounded."

In fact, research shows that people with psychiatric disabilities are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violent crime.

Given what has been reported about Cho's abuse by bullies, the role of trauma in the tragedy should be understood. "Ninety percent of persons receiving services in public mental health systems have been exposed to trauma," said Coalition member Mary Blake, a trauma survivor and a consultant to the National Center for Trauma-Informed Care. "Services must be sensitive to the fact of trauma in people's lives."

The National Coalition of Mental Health Consumer/Survivor Organizations works to ensure that people who have experienced severe emotional distress have a major voice in the development and implementation of health care, mental health, and social policies at the state and national levels. The Coalition advocates for mental health policies that promote full participation and integration in the community and end discrimination.

"This tragedy is a reminder of the fragility of our humanity and the importance of reaching out with compassion to each other, especially those in distress," said Spiro.

Contact: Lauren Spiro, NCMHCSO director of public policy, 703-862-6512

Lauren Spiro

Director of Public Policy National Coalition of Mental Health Consumer/Survivor Organizations

Washington, D.C.

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Ted Chabasinski

Ted received electroshock at the age of six, and spent 10 years of his youth locked up inside a state psychiatric institution. He became a psychiatric survivor movement leader in 1971, and later became an attorney. He has served on the board of MindFreedom International for several years. (Photo by Tom Olin)
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