(WFXR) — Mental health has been inching into the discussion around gun violence for years, but its place in the conversation was solidified by federal gun legislation that expanded programming and funding for mental health in response to recent mass shootings.

As the two issues are discussed side by side, WFXR News’ Rhian Lowndes wondered what impact that was having on mental health stigma and on gun laws. As a result, she spoke to Roanoke Valley experts in both fields, starting a productive conversation that captures both topics.

“People aren’t necessarily fully educated on mental illness,” said Courtni Sandras Gaut, clinical coordinator at Roanoke Resource.

She says mental illness is a factor when we’re looking at events like mass shootings, but explains violence is not rooted in mental illness.

“It’s people’s inability to cope with life’s stressors and their unwillingness or inability to reach out for assistance in those moments,” said Gaut. “Violence usually comes just from the person, from their personality, how they have been taught to cope.”

She and others emphasize there’s a difference between blaming violence on mental illness and encouraging mental wellness to keep everyone safe.

“We participate with Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare organization, we do mental health awareness, we do suicide prevention training with our staff,” said Mitchell Tyler, who is not only on the Suicide Prevention Council of the Roanoke Valley, but he also owns a gun store.

“The biggest concern for gun owners and red flag laws is the misuse of them,” he added.

Virginia’s red flag law — also known as the Extreme Risk Protection Order — requires someone to go to the authorities and present a strong argument that someone could harm themselves or others before authorities can seize guns.

“Extreme is part of the title on purpose,” he said.

Tyler added that mental health needs to be emphasized and that conversations around guns and conversations around mental wellness have to go hand in hand.

Gaut emphasizes that when looking at tragedies like mass shootings, rather than looking to blame mental illness, it’s more important to consider someone’s environment and learned behavior.