Statement on the proposed Health Advanced Research Projects Agency (HARPA)
Federal officials have signaled potential support for the creation of a Health Advanced Research Projects Agency (HARPA), the stated aim of which would be to study the causes of mass violence in order to enhance prevention efforts. Increased Federal support for the study of the factors contributing to gun violence would be an important step toward prevention. However, a proposed aspect of HARPA would be the collection of digital data from devices used by people living with mental illness in an attempt to determine who is at increased risk of perpetrating mass gun violence. Vibrant Emotional Health opposes this approach. It is imperative that any research conducted does not focus narrowly on people who are living with mental health challenges.
A considerable body of research indicates mental illness is not a central factor in the majority of cases of violence, including mass violence, in the United States. The lifetime prevalence of mental illness in the United States is 50% – yet people with mental illness are responsible for only 3% of all violent incidents. In fact, people living with mental illness are more likely to experience violence at the hands of others, rather than perpetrate it themselves.
Additionally, a number of other risk factors outside of mental illness have been identified that are more closely associated with gun violence, including a history of prior violent incidents, substance abuse, and access to firearms. While these and other risk factors have been correlated with gun violence, it remains exceedingly difficult to accurately predict who specifically is likely to perpetrate mass violence.
Centering research primarily on those living with diagnosable mental disorders is an unproductive use of research funding. Further, doing so will likely deepen the stigma associated with mental illness and perpetuate discrimination based on people’s known or presumed diagnoses. Additionally, an overemphasis on studying people living with mental illness has the potential to expose them to unjustifiable violations of privacy and inappropriate legal action.
Vibrant strongly recommends that any study of incidents of mass violence should include investigation into the social, economic and environmental factors that contribute to its prevalence, in addition to individual risk factors. Comprehensive research into these risk factors, as well as identifying and implementing risk-reducing best practices, will strengthen our society’s ability to prevent violence in our communities, and contribute to all aspects of our well-being.
Centering research primarily (solely?) on a single risk factor, such as those living with diagnosable mental disorders, will not reduce the risk of mass violence and, ultimately, is an unproductive use of research funding. It also will likely deepen the stigma associated with mental illness and perpetuate discrimination based on people’s known or presumed diagnoses. Importantly, overemphasis on studying people living with mental illness has the potential to expose them to unjustifiable violations of privacy and inappropriate legal action.