When it comes to the issue of gun violence in America both anti-and-pro gun lobbies have found a scapegoat–anyone with mental illness.
This is obviously a disgustingly and sensationalized portrayal that plays into the stigma in a very intense way. But the pro-gun rights folks aren't the only guilty parties. Now the anti-gun folks are using mental illness to promote their cause. This billboard sponsored by apparel company Kenneth Cole and promoted by the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence is equally as disgusting and inaccurate.
Here is a very good article from The American Prospect that discusses how dangerous these stereotypes or stigmas can be.
We all know that in some cases mentally ill people can commit violent acts. But taken as a whole, mental illness is no more of an indicator for violence than other demographic and social characteristics. Dr. Jeffrey Swanson, a professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Duke University School of Medicine discusses Myth VS. Facts in this article from the website Propublica.com.
So, why all the bullying from the pro-and-anti gun people? As someone who has been in the public policy arena for nearly thirty years, I can say with confidence the only reason advocacy organizations publicly pick on anyone is that they see them as an easy target. In this case they're wrong!
So what can we do?
I would say let's keep this simple and concentrate on putting pressure on Kenneth Cole and The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence to remove the billboard.
Here's what we suggest:
- Let everyone know you are a member of mentalhealthjustice.net. Being from an organization can be more powerful than protesting individually. We consider a member anyone that has liked our Facebook page. And please, no matter which option you choose, communicate in a respectful and calm manner. Together, we are strong!
- Contact the organization online.
- Email Kenneth Cole's media contact Danielle Hirschberg and the Brady Campaign's Brendan Kelly the suggested language from below: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
- I would also suggest to CC their Director of Development, Valerie Mullen Pletcher on all messages: firstname.lastname@example.org. They need to know their misconceived attacks on us, the mental health community, can create a branding problem.
- Call Kenneth Cole's Danielle Hirschberg at (212) 315-8257 and Brady Campaign's at (202) 370-8100. They probably won't forward you to them, so ask if you can leave a message and use the suggested language below to craft your message.
- Go to their Facebook Pages (Kenneth Cole & Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence). For Kenneth Cole register your views on posts most recently on August 26, 2015 at 6:00 PM by fellow activist Jinnah Mohammed. On the Brady Page scroll down to the billboard on their post dated August 28, 2015 at 2:49 PM and use the proposed language to craft a protest message.
- On Twitter let's join the already established boycott movement and tweet your views at #BoycottKennethCole.
- Finally, share your disapproval of this campaign with friends and family. This is a great teaching moment for all of us. The more people know that The Stigma and The Judgment are based on stereotypes– the more we are doing to bring them to an end.
Dear Ms. Hirschberg and Mr. Kelly,
I am a person (or friend or family member of) who suffers with mental illness (depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, PTSD etc.). I am a member of Mental Health Justice.
I am calling to strongly object to a recent billboard campaign sponsored by Kenneth Cole and promoted by The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. The campaign suggest that the 40 million Americans, like myself, are more prone to gun violence and therefore create a danger to society.
The truth is people with mental illness are more of a danger to themselves (30,000 suicides annually) than they are to others.
Again, please remove the billboards immediately and stop inaccurately portraying mental illness and perpetuating societal stigma against our community.
Please make your calls & send your emails today.
The faster we move the sooner they will remove the billboards.
Mental Health Justice. Working together, we can stop the stigma and the judgment.