On February 14th, 2018, President Donald Trump tweeted his response to the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida. He stated "so many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem.
Such a statement made by Trump and officials suggests that school shootings are strongly associated to mental health issues--reinforcing the unfair, yet, common stigma that implies all people that are mentally ill are extremely dangerous and violent.
Are all shooters mentally ill? At first glance, I feel like it's most people natural instinct to associate mental illness with violent crimes. Understandably, this is people's attempt to try to comprehend mass shootings and find something to blame them on. The first thing I asked myself after 20 children were unnecessarily shot dead in Newtown CT was "who would do such a crazy thing!? Such a massacre could not be committed by a sane person, right?" Therefore, I believe it makes the most logical sense for people to conclude that a person who behaves this way is abnormal. On the other hand, the media's coverage of high profile cases of mass shootings constantly assume the perpetrator is a "mad men" or "bad" since this simplistic explanation is easier to report and to accept. In fact, these incorrect associations have become so ingrained into minds of the general public. In other words, whenever the media mentions a shooter to have a mental disorder, it's more likely a person will negatively perceive those with a disorder. However, the assumption that those with a mental disorder are violent is extremely inaccurate. And like Trump's tweet, influences from the news can potentially establish a deeper barrier for access and treatment of mental illness.
They're three common misperceptions about mass shootings relationship to mental illness: 1) mass shootings by people with serious mental illness represent the most significant relationship between gun violence and mental illness, 2) people with serious mental illness should be considered dangerous, 3) gun laws focusing on people with mental illness or with a psychiatric diagnosis can effectively prevent mass shootings even if they add to the stigma already associated with mental illness. In contrast, factual evidence shows that mass shootings by people with serious mental illness actually represent less than 1% of all yearly gun-related homicides.
So, it turns out that little population-level confirmation to support the notion that individuals diagnosed with mental illness are more likely than anyone else to commit gun crimes. Also, it was revealed by the Psycho-Legal Studies Program at Northwestern University that "subgroups of persons with severe or untreated mental illness might be at increased risk for violence in periods surrounding psychotic episodes" (Choe, Teplin, Abram 153). This information explains why "60% of perpetrators of mass shootings in the United States since 1970 displayed symptoms including acute paranoia, delusions, and depression before committing their crimes"--strongly similar to symptoms that fall under schizophrenia and PTSD. For instance, shooter Adam Lanza was diagnosed with schizophrenia days following the tragedy that occurred at Sandy Hook elementary.
Asking questions, reviewing one's history, and observing someone's behaviors and reactions, can all help formulate a psychodiagnosis, or an attempt to describe, asses and understand someone's particular situations and that possibility that they might be experiencing a mental disorder. Due to the fact most shooters have untreated symptoms and do not seek needed psychiatric help makes it harder to prevent more violent acts from occurring. Moreover, we also need laws that focus on those individuals whose behaviors identify them as having increased risk for committing gun violence, rather than on broad categories such as mental illness or psychiatric diagnoses. This will help reduce negative stereotypes and social stigmas when it comes to mental illness. Individuals with mental illness often have to cope with public stigma expressed through prejudice (belief in negative stereotypes) and discriminatory (actions based on prejudice) which can be more devastating than the illness itself.
(Joaquin shown on the left)