Monday, October 12, 2015

Study essentially destroys the conservative myth that shootings are the result of mental illness.

Image courtesy of Salon.
I happened to stumble across this study, released in February of this year, on Reddit and thought I would share a few of its findings:

The focus on mental illness in the wake of recent mass shootings reflects a decades-long history of more general debates in psychiatry and law about guns, gun violence, and “mental competence.” Psychiatric articles in the 1960s deliberated ways to assess whether mental patients were “of sound mind enough” to possess firearms. Following the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School, Breggin decried the toxic combination of mental illness, guns, and psychotropic medications that contributed to the actions of shooter Eric Harris. After the 2012 shooting at Newtown, Torrey amplified his earlier warnings about dangerous “subgroups” of persons with mental illness who, he contended, were perpetrators of gun crimes. Speaking to a national television audience, Torrey, a psychiatrist, claimed that “about half of . . . mass killings are being done by people with severe mental illness, mostly schizophrenia, and if they were being treated they would have been preventable.” Similar themes appear in legal dialogues as well. Even the US Supreme Court, which in 2008 strongly affirmed a broad right to bear arms, endorsed prohibitions on gun ownership “by felons and the mentally ill” because of their special potential for violence. 

Yet surprisingly little population-level evidence supports the notion that individuals diagnosed with mental illness are more likely than anyone else to commit gun crimes. According to Appelbaum,25 less than 3% to 5% of US crimes involve people with mental illness, and the percentages of crimes that involve guns are lower than the national average for persons not diagnosed with mental illness. Databases that track gun homicides, such as the National Center for Health Statistics, similarly show that fewer than 5% of the 120 000 gun-related killings in the United States between 2001 and 2010 were perpetrated by people diagnosed with mental illness.

This of course is almost exactly what I have been saying for months now, but it it always nice to have research to back it up.

Here's more:  

Media reports often assume a binary distinction between mild and severe mental illness, and connect the latter form to unpredictability and lack of self-control. However, this distinction, too, is called into question by mental health research. To be sure, a number of the most common psychiatric diagnoses, including depressive, anxiety, and attention-deficit disorders, have no correlation with violence whatsoever. Community studies find that serious mental illness without substance abuse is also “statistically unrelated” to community violence. At the aggregate level, the vast majority of people diagnosed with psychiatric disorders do not commit violent acts—only about 4% of violence in the United States can be attributed to people diagnosed with mental illness.

The study also says that of course people who demonstrate hostility, or aggressive behaviors should have their access to guns restricted, but that there are many with a mental health diagnosis who are just as safe, or safer, than those who have never even seen a psychiatrist.

I would like to expand on that further by saying that everyday you are surrounded by people with mental health issues that fall within the diagnostic classifications found within the DSM IV.

In fact some of these people may even benefit from such disorders as Aspergers, paranoia, compulsive disorders, and even body dysmorphia (As related to success as a body builder or model.)

Some classifications are subtle and not easily detected, or temporary, and though inconvenient (Such as depression) not disruptive enough to warrant a psychiatric evaluation.

Simply put if you yourself do not suffer from one ore more classifications for mental illness, you are almost certainly surrounded by several people who do.

And trust me that if we were to get really serious about expanding psychiatric screenings, and then taking the guns away from anybody who received a negative diagnoses (Which by the way sounds like a great idea to me.), the NRA would stop talking about mental illness overnight and start blaming all the shootings on video games, violent movies, or rap music.


  1. Anonymous4:24 AM

    Gryphen, we're now up to DSM-V.... you know, the one that classifies bereavement as a mental disorder, giving shrinks a whole new growth industry.

  2. How about DSM-VI -- The mental disorder of Christianists, evangelical cult members, Fox News pod people who have committed intellectual suicide, but are still walking' around like the "thought police", trying to enforce their beliefs on others, if need be, at gun point.

  3. Anonymous5:28 AM

    Gun nuts love to blame shootings on mental illness rather than the easy access to guns (even high powered assault weapons), but when it comes to trial very, very few of these shooters are found mentally unstable.
    Right wingers also hate the insanity defense, they've set the bar for insanity extremely high. Case in point: the Colorado movie shooter.

  4. Anonymous7:18 AM

    I will tell my own reality. I have bipolar disorder. It is successfully medicated, and I see a therapist faithfully. My life overall is better than I ever thought it could be.

    Having said that, I would NEVER in a million years purchase a gun, or allow one to be purchased for me. In the past, I would have committed suicide at several points in my life, and now, if my medication should stop working, I might find myself back in that place again---or universe forbid, hurt someone else in the course of my own exit.

    There is no way on this earth that my background should not be checked, and that I should not be denied a gun.

    WHAT ARE THESE PEOPLE THINKING???? That if it's mental health involved, the NRA can and should just 1) blame personal mental health, and therefore 2) just wash its hands of the problem?

    Now, utterly denying reality in favor of one's own fantasy of ultimate power definitely IS a mental illness. These people disgust me.

  5. Anonymous7:37 AM

    The people with mental disorders are the gun loons.

  6. Typically many of these shooters have no friends, and no girlfriends. They seem quiet and nice, but only because they lack the social skills to interact. In social encounters, they respond, they do not initiate. If an adolescent hasn't made critical social connections by the time he exits high school, he may well never.

    Of course not every social outcast resorts to violence. Whatever personal hell they endure, they endure. Even if we could identify such types, then what? Is there anything society can do to help make life better for the socially outcast? One thing I am pretty sure of, making weapons more abundant and easier to obtain isn't going to help.

  7. Remember when you finally grew up and realized mom and dad weren't right about everything? That the time had come for you to cut the apron strings and go it alone? Time now for gun owners to cut the apron strings with the NRA. You can believe in the 2nd amendment without believing in the NRA.

    The NRA is not the 2nd amendment. It is not the constitution. It is not America. It is a gun lobby representing arms manufacturers who desire to sell as much product as possible. Like every other item manufactured for sale, guns are product.

    As a gun owner myself, I would never join the NRA. Like so many organizations that indoctrinate their members, the NRA is too much like a cult.

  8. Anonymous12:09 PM

    Aspergers is a mental disorder. The disturbance causes clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

    I have a number of people in my family with this disorder. There is no benefit to it and it causes massive problems for them, the entire family, and just about everyone they come in contact with. In my family alone, it has led to crippling low self esteem, lifelong depression, and death by suicide.

    The disturbance causes clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

    Please don't repeat this ridiculous myth that there is any benefit for suffering from this horrible disorder.

    1. Many who have Aspergers get quite upset when people say they are suffering or should be fixed, they are happy as who they are. Aspergers is not really a mental illness, it is a developmental disorder.

    2. Anonymous10:55 PM

      I didn't say that it was a mental illness, and I have never heard anyone say that. It is more than a developmental disorder because it colors their entire social existence. It is a mental disorder.

      As for the rest of your statement, you are guilty of perpetuating this horrible myth. You don't sound like you personally have any experience with it. I have seen its lifelong effects on members of my immediate and extended family. You do no one any favors by sugarcoating it.

      People with Asperger's are in NO position to judge what is normal or not. They have never experienced normal and have no ability even to have a reference for it. They may not feel that they are suffering, but again, the nature of the condition means that they have no ability to understand what others experience.

  9. Anonymous1:07 PM

    And another question that's rarely mentioned--why is it almost ALWAYS boys/men who do this? Is there a link to testosterone? Don't have to take extra T to feel the 'Roid Rage.

  10. Anonymous1:10 PM

    I don't think it's the mental illness that's the cause of this upsurge in mass shootings, I think it's some of the psychiatric drugs given for mental illness. For years it's been known that such drugs can cause hostility and/or suicidal thoughts in people, especially young people up to age 24. Combine such brain altering chemicals with a person who feels unhappy, bullied, or otherwise upset with their life, and there could be problems.

  11. Anonymous4:21 PM

    There is a statistical association between some types of mental illness, such as paranoid schizophrenia, and violence, when alcohol or substance abuse is involved. In the absence of substance abuse then studies have long shown that there is no greater propensity to violence among those with mental illness. Many with mental illness are far more likely to be victimized than to commit violence against others.
    Personally I really do wonder about the video games. Young men are now spending untold hours playing very graphic shooting/warfare games. You gotta wonder what effect that has on the small percentage who develop mental imbalance.
    But NO argument on the issue of guns. Other countries have video games, other countries have mental illness, other countries have psychotropic medications. Other countries do not have kids shooting kids on a daily basis. Like the commercial says, it's not complicated.

  12. Anonymous4:57 PM

    Anon 7:18 thank you for sharing your truth. I also have a mental illness, but I live with guns every day. My husband is a responsible gun owner who keeps his firearms locked up. I sometimes go target shooting with him and once bought a gun for myself for target purposes. I lied on the application form about being mentally ill because I knew my own capacity to handle firearms. I'd be willing to bet there are a lot of people who lie about this, because, really, how does this information get communicated to the authorities? Would you really want your therapist to report your case, with full identification, to the government so gun stores would know not to sell you a gun? i have real issues with the privacy of so many people being violated because we choose to accede to the gun lobby. You are admirable for your self-reflection and acknowledging your limitations. But, I think there are insurmountable obstacles to violating the privacy of people in therapy, including you and me. Especially since there are alternative strategies which can be explored. I love what TC (8:10) says above about the NRA. We must stop letting them dictate our public health policy. (In case anyone wonders, I wouldn't mind at all if my husband had to give up all of his guns. He can pick up another hobby, maybe archery?).

  13. There are threat teams forming all over the country which are a combo of mental health professionals and law enforcement. I don't like this idea because the mindset in evaluating people will be looking for aggression or evidence of possible violence. If they are coming to look for these things that is what they will find and injustices will happen. What we did before the cut backs on mental health decades ago was have teams of mental health professionals who went into the community and evaluated people to see just what the deal was rather than looking for violent tendencies, danger to self, danger others, gravely disabled and then the environment they were in, were they safe, did they have food, etc. If they appeared to have problems that needed an intervention they were taken for evaluation using the court system so their rights were protected. Then another team of mental health professionals evaluated them for up to a month, sometimes longer and wrote a report for the judge. Most of the time they were declared not a danger to anyone and treatment or changes in living circumstances were recommended. I prefer the mindset of helping instead of the law enforcement approach for people with mental health issues. If we actually went out to help those who are suffering many of the violent situations could be prevented. Even though the mentally ill have a low risk of violence it is clear among those who perpetrated mass murder some were psychotic. It is also clear some had personality disorders and some had substance abuse problems. Most were young men at the age where the disturbances in thinking begin to develop for Schizophrenia even if they don't have the diagnosis yet. Then obviously many have the intention of suicide using the method of murder/suicide, the state of suicidal thinking is very closely related to psychosis and I think this has a lot to do with the violence. Then the recent articles about the perpetrators or mass murders being isolated and lonely are also a key factor. Remember inmates placed in isolation who are perfectly sane become mentally ill, pretty much everyone if they are isolated long enough. There are many ways one can be isolated from human contact even if not incarcerated. Working on helping people have healthier, more normal lives when issues are detected will help. It is also important that children in bad situations get the help they need to learn social skills.

    1. Anonymous3:31 AM

      PLEASE -- give us some paragraphs...then I will read your post, which I am sure you spent some time on and would like it to be read. Break it down -- as it stands it is just a block of words, no way in. Readers lose their way after the first few lines and give up. I do.


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