Stop stigmatizing mental health by blaming it for mass killings

Anyone who can kill a child at point-blank range with an AR-15 clearly doesn’t have the typical mental capacity. This does not mean that the murderer has a mental health disorder.

Trish Zornio (Photo by Holly Hursley Photography)

Make no mistake, America has a mental health crisis. Based on 2020 data assessments, more than 20% of the adult population — some 53 million people — will experience some form of mental illness in a 12-month period. Other estimates suggest it could be even higher in 1 in 4 Americans.

Either way, the rate at which Americans are suffering from mental illness is deeply concerning. To make matters worse, experts are poised for rates to keep rising due to the lingering effects of the pandemic and feelings of economic insecurity.

Given this trajectory, calls for better mental health support and treatment are a legitimate priority. At the same time, blaming horrific acts of violence such as deadly mass shootings on mental health is a grave prejudice and a dangerous precedent that further stigmatizes an already marginalized community.

emerging Data show that only a small percentage of violent acts are committed by someone with a mental health diagnosis. Additionally, those who commit violence with these conditions tend to show repeated patterns over time, or comorbidities, offering warning signs.

Conversely, those with serious mental health problems are only a little more violent as a whole than the general population, and they are often more at risk to themselves than to others. Here, violence is often displayed towards oneself, as with cutting or suicide. Meanwhile, the vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent.

Looking specifically at mass shootings, a 2018 study by the Federal Bureau of Investigation showed that only 25% of active shooters qualified for a mental health diagnosis. In 2015, another study showed only 22%. Interpreted another way, these studies reveal that up to 75% or more of people who have committed mass murder did not qualify for a mental health diagnosis.

Above all, lack of qualification for a mental health diagnosis does not mean that a killer’s brain is functioning in a desirable or typical way – obviously. It does mean, however, that there are many reasons that could influence thinking and behavior beyond mental illness. Key research points to potential factors such as obsession with other shooters, a history of domestic violence, feelings of resentment, a desire for notoriety and, most often, easy access to firearms.

Speaking to mental health experts, the American Psychological Association again responded to gun violence in light of the latest mass shootings. In a prepared statementPresident Frank Worrell has emphasized the importance of addressing gun violence as a public health issue – a strategy that primarily includes rigorous gun reform.

“A public health crisis requires a public health approach. The APA has long advocated for gun safety, including background checks on potential gun buyers, safe gun storage, laws implementing extreme risk protection orders. and much more research on the psychological factors that lead to gun violence.

But there is one aspect of mental health that should be directly linked to mass murder every time: the distress experienced by survivors, their families and nation as a whole.

READ: Colorado Sun Opinion Columnists.

Whether the trauma of a mass shooting causes grief, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety or depression, these can be very real and often very serious mental health issues that can affect a nobody for the rest of his life. Confusing the experience of victims as being similar in nature to that of the abuser may seem dismissive and testy to those affected, and suggesting that mental health is the common root also falsely conveys a new propensity for violence and that the The abuser suffers from a condition just as compassionate as that of the victims.

There’s no question that Americans need better access to mental health treatment — and I sincerely hope we work on this. But it is not primarily mental health that is killing our children; it’s unfettered access to high-powered firearms.


Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer, and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She is an avid climber and was a 2020 candidate for US Senate from Colorado.


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