Kyle Rittenhouse trial: Mental health stigma worsened, expert says

Mental health experts say there is more at stake at the Kyle Rittenhouse trial than just a verdict. They fear some of the arguments made in court have only worsened the stigma surrounding mental health.

With the case hinging on whether the jury believes Rittenhouse was acting in self-defense when he shot three people, killing two of them, during unrest in August 2020, the defense strategy during closing arguments was clear.

"And I'm glad he shot him because if Joseph Rosenbaum would've got that gun, I don't for a minute believe he wouldn't have used it against somebody else. He was irrational and crazy," said Mark Richards, defense attorney.

Kariann Swart

Kariann Swart

Testimony from Rosenbaum's fiancee, Kariann Swart, revealed Rosenbaum was living with bipolar disorder and was taking medication to treat it.

Away from the courtroom, the comments about his mental health were more than a targeted tactic to the jury.

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"That is very stigmatizing to people with mental illness," said Mary Kay Battaglia, executive director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness Wisconsin Chapter.

Battaglia says the statements are only strengthening the stigma surrounding mental health.

"They're afraid to seek out the help because people will make fun of them, call them crazy, treat them poorly, be afraid of them because they don't know how to respond," said Battaglia. 

Battaglia is also trying to correct the public's perception regarding people living with mental illness and crime. A 2020 study shows they are more likely to be a victim of a crime and not the perpetrator.

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