Mass shootings and mental illness
The OVERWHELMING majority of mass shooters are killed during or at the end of their shooting spree. And those shooters know what's coming. Thus, it is probably more correct to think of these events as VIOLENT SUICIDES. This is an important framing of the problem because someone out to commit suicide in this way is not going to be deterred by knowledge that police (and teachers?!!) are going to be heavily armed -- that is exactly what they are seeking.
As always your discussion, here of mental illness, is lucid detailed, understandable and well analyzed. So far so good. I think you have fallen into the sociopolitical trap of not seeing the forest for the trees.
To use a medical paradigm, mass shootings are the symptom, not the disease and considerations of mental illness are largely diversionary, not diagnostic. Or to use a political economy paradigm: Among the basic functions of society are protecting the lives and security of its citizens and a foundational way to do this is to give the government monopoly control over violence. Currently in the USA a political party seeking absolute power has used all kinds of strategies to acquire it, from fomenting racial animus, to distorted voting mechanisms, to promoting one religious point of view, to indulging fictional analyses of events and false science, to adopting a false but functional political philosophy of neoliberal, libertarian, originalist, nationalistic, conservativism. If I use this "epidemiological" "epistemic" paradigm, the proximate cause of all these mass shootings is the US Supreme Court, which embodied this political philosophy to radically reinterpret the Second Amendment, damn the consequences in real life. All discussion of mental illness is buying into their distortions and diversionary as mass shootings are part of an intentional destruction of our civic order to free corporatist power. P.S. Same dynamic shaped the tragic response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
I literally don’t know how you pull off perfect essay after perfect essay at such an extraordinary pace. You should be taught in school as a model of superb expository writing on complex technical and scientific topics.
Curious to hear what your HS and college undergrad experience and focus was!!
Another problem with the "mental health" approach to mass shootings is that psychiatrists are terrible at predicting who will be violent. And as a psychiatrist, I have to say--it's not just that we are stupid; we simply don't have data that allow us to identify those people. Many people have many of the risk factors, but accurate prediction isn't possible.
I have to disagree, though, with the idea that careful, logical preparation argues against mental illness, or even psychosis. Mental illness usually doesn't impair one's cognitive abilities.
Brilliant! As a mental health practitioner, I have been so concerned how the word mental illness has been bantered around in conjunction with mass shootings.
Evil is not mental illness and I thank you for so eloquently putting it into words what I never could have done
Thank you so much
I really appreciate this discussion and your expertise on this matter. As a Sociologist, I will summarize part of your piece in a way that I've been thinking about a lot lately: we want to pinpoint one single solution to stop mass shootings (mental illness or access to guns seem to be the main singular solutions being proposed right now), when the causes are multiplex (as you state in your piece). One of the things that science communicators have to fight politicians on (and get the word out to the public on) more effectively is that a singular solution is no solution at all. However, if we tackle simultaneously the multiple causes of mass shootings (many of which you mention in your article), we may have a chance at a drastic reduction.
Dear YLE community,
I have to say that I have a slightly different take on this issue. I have been struck during the aftermath of these shootings, that the young men who are perpetrating them are suffering so much, prior to the shooting/suicide, and as I work on the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, I suddenly wondered: Why don't we have a National Homicide Prevention Hotline. In the same way that there has been recognition over the 63 years of my life that many many people experience suicidal ideation, that it is not a defect in their brains for which we should punish or shun them and they need help and immediate means reduction intervention, could we not turn this type of thinking toward mass shooters? I would wager that homicidal ideation, or at least the urge toward violence, is very very common and rather than marginalizing and shunning these folks, would treating them with compassion and understanding and means reduction and entry into therapeutic alliance not help lower the number of mass shootings? Could this type of intervention, along with common sense gun safety laws perhaps lower the terrible carnage and at the same time, decrease these people's isolation and fear? Something to think about. But calling them "evil", that just perpetuates the marginalization of folks who have human impulses, as we now know many many folks have visa vis suicidal ideation, that need to be dealt with as best we can. We cannot prevent every suicide or every homicide, but we may make a dent that saves some lives. Just thinking . . .
Dear YLE, There is one attribute of mass shooters - and most violent perpetrators- that is nearly never mentioned: they are very nearly all male. This is not a mental health crisis: it’s a crisis of toxic masculinity in our culture - plus easy access to firearms. And prohibiting abortions is pure misogyny. Without addressing these gender biases, we will never solve either issue. PS I adore everything you’ve written & quote it to everyone I can.
I think it was Thomas Szasz that said we had to distinguish between sick and sickening. Attributing these shootings to mental illness puts the responsibility on mental health professionals, not the politicians and policy makers that will actually make a difference.
I am fortunate to have discovered YLE in 2020 to aid my understanding of viruses in general, COVID-19 in particular and the public health perspectve. My good fortune has multiplied as you address broader issues - mass violence, abortion, etc. Thank you!
I'd like to be able to cite evidence that mentally ill people don't tend to be more violent than a random stranger, but the studies you've cited are the best I've been able to find, and I don't see how they lead to that conclusion. 2-4% of mentally ill people being violent looks higher than a 1-3% rate among the general population, and "only 1% of patients discharged from psychiatric facilities committed an act of violence against a stranger with a gun" isn't compared to the general population rate. https://bjs.ojp.gov/content/pub/pdf/GUIC.PDF has a statistic of about 0.002 firearm crimes per US resident, which would make psychiatric patients at least 5x as likely to use a gun. So ... is there a better way to read these studies?
I was in the board, and working committee of a foundation in Texas which created the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute. The name and focus on mental health and changing systems was deliberate. While Texas is a red state on a state level, there has been legislative support and local support across all party lines.
This type of institute is needed in every state. People want better systems because mental health impacts individuals, families, government, legal systems etc., but they just don’t know how to bring systems together and don’t know how to impact change that works.
Thank you so much for this article. We Americans always go to the easy answer when faced with trama, especially when you are an elected official trying to appear to solve the problem.
As you mentioned mass shootings/violence appears to be a societal issue that causes us to forcefully try to correct it.
Keep up the good work.
Not all sick people are evil. Not all evil people are sick.
Do you have information on how often mass shooters publish or announce their intent before acting? Perhaps some sanction of someone who has this information and does not act to prevent its occurrence could be preventative.
Very nice discussion. I wonder if the examples of "mob rule" responses fore warn of a return of the "terribles" which followed massive and increasingly violent street demonstrations of the French Revolution. We live in interesting times.