Duke scholar to address violence, mental illness and the law

contact: Mark Schwerin
| WMU News
Photo of Jeffrey Swanson.


KALAMAZOO, Mich.—The intersection of gun violence, mental illness and the law will be explored Wednesday, Oct. 19, when a Duke University scholar speaks as part of the Western Michigan University Center for the Study of Ethics in Society's Fall 2016 Lecture Series.

Dr. Jeffrey Swanson, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral services at Duke University, will speak at 7:30 p.m. in the Fetzer Center's Putney Auditorium. His presentation, titled "Thinking Differently About Gun Violence, Mental Illness and the Law: Balancing Risk and Rights for Effective Policy," is free and open to the public.

Swanson will discuss how media accounts of mass shootings by disturbed individuals galvanize public attention and tend to reinforce popular stereotypes that people with serious mental illnesses are generally dangerous—a belief that stigmatizes people with psychiatric disorders. However, epidemiologic studies show that violence is caused by many factors, and that the large majority of people with serious mental illnesses do not engage in violent acts towards others.

Swanson's presentation will provide a basic orientation to the epidemiological relationship between mental illness and violent behavior and between exposure to firearms and risk of gun-involved violence and suicide. He also will discuss legal approaches to gun violence prevention in the United States.

Jeffrey Swanson

Swanson earned a doctoral degree in sociology from Yale University. His current research is focused on building evidence for policies and laws to prevent firearm-related violence and suicide and to improve outcomes for adults with serious mental illnesses in the community.

Swanson received the 2011 Carl Taube Award from the American Public Health Association and the 2010 Eugene C. Hargrove, MD, Award from the North Carolina Psychiatric Foundation, both for outstanding career contributions to mental health research. Swanson's research has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, Time Magazine, The New Yorker, CNN and other national news outlets. He is principal investigator of a multi-state study on firearms laws, mental illness and prevention of gun violence, co-sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the Brain and Behavior Foundation, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Program on Public Health Law Research. Swanson served as a member of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Mandated Community Treatment. He frequently serves as a consultant to public policymakers at the state and national levels.

Swanson's appearance is co-sponsored by the WMU Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine.

For more information, visit wmich.edu/ethics.

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