Mass Shootings and Mental Health
This is a repost and slight expansion of a Twitter thread from a few days ago.
For the record, I have a mental illness, and have never committed a mass shooting.
Research shows that “the overall contribution of people with serious mental illness to violent crimes is only about 3%. When these crimes are examined in detail, an even smaller percentage of them are found to involve firearms.”
If you’re looking for a more telling correlation, consider this finding from an FBI study of 160 active shooter events between 2000 and 2013: “Only 6 (3.8%) of the 160 cases involved a female perpetrator.” (p. 85)
I mean, please, PLEASE, do improve mental health care in this country! But don’t expect it to have any impact on mass shootings.
One argument points to a Mother Jones article claiming mental illness is frequently a factor in these shootings. So I downloaded their data set.
Factors they listed in the mental illness column include:
- History of domestic conflict
- Violent criminal history
- Family said he was mentally ill (no illness/diagnosis specified)
- Cousin said he was depressed and “going through a lot of things”
- Experimented with pot and hallucinogens
They also listed some actual mental illness diagnoses. But counting those diagnoses right alongside things like “stalked and harassed a colleague” completely undermines their research and conclusions.
One individual was upset I argued against blaming mass shootings on the mentally ill, then turned around and pointed out that almost all mass shooters are male. I mean, I guess I’m sorry he felt upset or attacked or whatever, but the facts are pretty straightforward:
- Most mass shooters are not mentally ill.
- Mass shooters are almost always male.
Yeah, we know most men aren’t mass murderers. But since mass shootings are committed almost exclusively by men, don’t you think maybe it’s worth asking why? (Don’t #NotAllMen me, bro!)
We could also look into the significant correlation between mass shootings and domestic violence.
I’m not the first to point any of this out. There’s plenty of research out there, and people have been challenging the “mass shootings are a mental health problem” refrain for years.
At this point, if you’re still beating the “mental illness” drum as a response to mass shootings in the USA, I have to assume it’s because you’re uninterested in addressing the real problems.
TL;DR – I’m mentally ill. Please stop blaming this epidemic on us. Thanks.
March 1, 2018 @ 1:27 pm
March 1, 2018 @ 2:10 pm
March 1, 2018 @ 3:39 pm
“There is no mental illness that causes someone to pick up a gun and start murdering people, and only affects men.” – Melissa McEwan
March 1, 2018 @ 8:00 pm
I hear you, and agree entirely on what avenues it makes the most sense to pursue (i.e. why almost all are male, and what if any causation is associated with a history of domestic violence (and whether as perpetrator and/or victim … maybe that’s addressed in the data set, I haven’t seen it). I do not have a mental illness but have friends and family members who do. I want to offer up a few explanations (NOT excuses) for why I think so many take the easy leap to blaming mass shootings on mental illness:
(1) Political expediency – In other words, if you’re a politician whose been on the NRA’s “payroll,” you are expected to toe the line and talk about anything but guns. Mental illness is an easy reach, and suitably vague – which makes it easy to duck approving funding for any one program. This isn’t simply a partisan issue, either. There are certainly any number of Democrats who fall into this category.
Of all the reasons for blaming mass shootings on mental illness discussed below, this is the one I find truly reprehensible. I try to be both practical and compassionate with other fallible human beings like myself, so sometimes I can even find my way to understanding how one of our elected representatives ended up being beholden to the NRA. However they ended up on that slippery slope of malignant mass manipulation(and worse) which, sadly, now comes along with being a supporter of the NRA (despite how far it has strayed from its original mission), I have to believe that anyone with a shred of moral character would, at some point in the past couple of decades, as the frequency and numbers of lives lost per mass shooting incident (or, as I deem more accurate: each MASSACRE of innocent human lives!) have grown so dramatically, must have reached a point when they can no longer “drink the NRA’s KOOL aid.”
I applaud those who have admitted the error of their ways, and pray that, for whatever the reason, the students from Parkland and around the nation who have raised their voice in protest will finally reach enough of the rest of our state and federal representatives to tip the scales of justice sufficiently towards addressing both immediate solutions like regulating the use and ownership of guns at least as much as we regulate driving and owning cars, and funding research into all identifying the significant factor which contribute to gun violence of all sorts, including suicide. With that simple, but essential foundation, we could move forward and meaningfully address the uniquely American attitudes, culture, habits, and institutional elements which are ACTUALLY CAUSAL to the unbelievably high rate of gun violence in America — instead of half-hearted attempts to influence just a few of the factors which we presume to be the source of our gun violence problems without have adequate data to ensure our efforts are targeted towards addressing the most significant factors promoting gun violence, while reinforcing those factors which meaningfully reduce the level of gun violence.
(2) Trying to understand the unimaginable – Most people cannot fathom why someone would intentionally try to kill as many human beings as they can, especially complete strangers. For me, I hit that wall hard after Sandy Hook. I couldn’t, and still can’t, find anyway to wrap my head around the idea of intentionally murdering all those innocent little 5 & 6 year olds. I feel sorrow for all lives lost to gun violence – but thinking of those little ones, of how their loved ones still suffer thinking about how scared & confused those young children must have been, and about how those bullets tore their little bodies – that all hit me hard, but what I truly couldn’t fathom was how even after Sandy Hook, Congress did not stand up to the NRA and pass some meaningful gun control legislation.
No matter the stated motivation (even when there is one), the only way I can seem make any sense of these massacres is to leap to the assumption that the shooter had to have been a psychopath (or sociopath … I forget the exact distinction and I can’t seem to access a dictionary while writing in this comment box… I’m pretty sure I mean psychopath.). I do want to point out that even though I made that leap to a form of mental illness without any significant data to support it, does NOT mean that I also generalize from one form of mental illness having connections to mass shootings and expand that presumption to cover anyone with any form of mental illness. Being a psychopath is a very specific form of mental illness including all people I’ve know with mental illness, make the leap to apply include friends and family living with bipolar disorder, OCD, depression, schizophrenia, PTSS, etc. etc. Am I wrong to make that leap? Very likely – because, at best, it is still likely that the entirety of what causes someone to bcome a mass murderer are far too complex to fit neatly under one single label.
(3) An possible easy way to get a lot more money directed toward mental illness – As I said at the beginning, I don’t think that it is fair or right to be risking even worse stigma being attached to the label of “mental illness” – not even in order to get more funding for all the many important, healing, and utterly necessary programs & services for people with various types of mental illness … most of which have been severely underfunded, if funded at all, for DECADES. It’s not fair to all those people in our nation living with mental illness, but I understand the motivation.
March 1, 2018 @ 11:39 pm
Thank you, Mr. Hines.
Misti, a.k.a. Carradee
March 2, 2018 @ 12:25 am
Some folks repeat nonsense because they want to believe it (possibly because it’s emotionally easier than the alternative), some because it was told to them by someone they trusted, and some because they actually want others to believe it.
If shooters are mentally ill, than someone who “jokes” can talk about doing that sort of thing and take refuge in “Of course I wouldn’t really do that!”
Abusers get away with so much by explaining away tests or slips as “jokes”—or by others assuming the abuser (or their victim) must be joking.
March 2, 2018 @ 11:54 am
Initial disclaimer: I am a mentally ill person with Complex PTSD. I am also a Quaker. Having PTSD does not make you prone to mass murder.
People who commit mass murders are distressed. They may or may not have become so distressed for so long that they are actually mentally ill. All people get stressed, though, and most don’t get violent about it. I am inclined to think, though without locatable documentation, that having great distress as a child leads to an unstable adult. But instability is not necessarily the same as mental illness, either, and most unstable people go in for smaller violences–yelling a lot, abusing their spouses and children, etc. Most of them do not go in for mass murder.
So what *is* in common among mass murderers, other than the uselessly vague term “distress”? Guns. Guns are it. There have *been* mass murders that didn’t use guns, but they generally injure or kill only a small handful of people.
So the common factor is not some vague term like mental illness, it is guns. That’s all. Guns and men. Since it is wrong (as well as hysterically impossible) to regulate being a man, perhaps we should regulate the only other thing these massacres have in common–firearms.
And Jim? Thanks for being out there talking about these issues. Mental Illness is poorly understood, and you work to counter that.
March 6, 2018 @ 5:49 am
When someone has mental illness..they can do anything… so if we have a family member that has this one we should always monitor them and seek some help..
Jim C. Hines
March 6, 2018 @ 2:59 pm
Kate – I don’t understand what you’re saying. When you refer to a family member that has “this one,” what one are you talking about?
As I noted, I have a mental illness. Does this mean you believe I can do anything, and I should always be monitored?