After cases of mass violence, specifically extensively covered school shootings, mental illness is often recognized as – or presumed to be – the origin. Social science research can help educators comprehend some simple truths and can contest some widespread erroneous beliefs.
Four presumptions frequently influence news media coverage after repercussions of mass shootings:
- Mental illness triggers gun violence.
- A psychiatric diagnosis can foresee gun crime prior to the occurrence.
- Mass shootings are executed by mentally ill loners.
- Gun control won’t avert another tragedy, because mass shooters’ psychiatric histories are too complicated.
In effect, research reveals that:
Mental illness does not trigger gun violence:
“Surprisingly little population-level evidence supports the notion that individuals diagnosed with mental illness are more likely than anyone else to commit gun crimes” (Metzl and MacLeish 2015).
Individuals with diagnosed with mental illnesses are not more apt to commit mass shootings; less than 5% of violence can be connected with mental illness.
In fact, individuals with mental illness of varying degrees – including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, Depression, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, and Schizophrenia – are more prone to be victimized than people without mental illness. They are also more prone to self-harm than to commit violence against others.
A diagnosis of mental illness does not predict gun violence:
“Psychiatric diagnosis is in and of itself not predictive of violence, and even the overwhelming majority of psychiatric patients who fit the profile of recent U.S. mass shooters – gun-owning, angry, paranoid White men – do not commit crimes” (Metzl and MacLeish 2015). People who commit mass shootings are not well; as one professor in psychiatry and behavioral health explains: “A mass shooting is the product of a disordered mental process” (Beckett 2014). Those who also feel hopeless, desperate and suicidal are more prone to violate others. Still, shooters rarely have a diagnosed (or diagnosable) mental illness.
Blaming mentally ill loners will not diminish gun violence:
Implying mental illness is (continually or frequently) the primary cause of terrible acts is stigmatizing. Stigma prevents people with mental illness from seeking and accessing appropriate care.
We recognize the risk factors for committing violence. Numerous studies have classified a history of childhood abuse, substance abuse and male gender as prognostic risk factors for serious violence. Moreover, school shooters are frequently white adolescent boys from small communities where “everyone knows everyone”; these are often boys who faced gender-based bullying, such as being considered “unmanly” because of their weight or athleticism, and who have access to guns.
Gun control can help prevent gun violence:
Furthermore, schools can reduce everyday violence. Enriching all aspects of a child’s life –learning, development and play – is a long-term prevention strategy that addresses multiple forms of violence. According to one author, that strategy includes “better education, youth services, jobs that pay a living wage, mental health services, trauma counseling, a fair criminal justice system – in short, more opportunity, less despair” (Younge 2018). A whole-child approach by schools does not focus on avoiding a school shootings, as such, but seeks to guarantee every student gets the start he or she is entitled to.