Mental Illnesses Don't Turn People Into Mass Shooters, Research Refutes President Trump

Mental Illnesses Don't Turn People Into Mass Shooters, Research Refutes President Trump

Every time there is a case of a mass shooting, people in power are quick to blame mental health and violent video games as the cause. But is it actually the reason?

Every time there's a mass shooting that happens in America, people of power and other political leaders, including Trump, are quick to place the blame on video games and mental illnesses. News reporters too, look for signs of loneliness or instability in the shooter so that they can claim that's what caused them to commit such a heinous crime. “Mental illness and hatred pull the trigger. Not the gun,” said President Trump on Monday, after two mass shootings in less than 24 hours, reports The Washington Post.  But, is mental illness actually to be blamed for these mass shootings? Maybe not, and there's research to back it up. 


Even though there have been some mass shooters with a history of schizophrenia or psychosis, many don't. Studies on these mass shooters have also concluded that while only a fraction of them have had a history of mental illness, not everyone falls into that category. There are a bunch of other reasons why someone decides to be a mass shooter: a strong sense of resentment, desire for infamy, a copycat study of other shooters, past domestic violence, narcissism and access to firearms. 


None of the reasons mentioned above has mental illness or influence from video games mentioned anywhere. “It’s tempting to try to find one simple solution and point the finger at that,” said Jeffrey Swanson, a professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University School of Medicine. “The fact that somebody would go out and massacre a bunch of strangers, that’s not the act of a healthy mind, but that doesn’t mean they have a mental illness.”


Mass shootings have become more common over the recent years, and so has the link to mental illness, by the FBI, police departments, forensic psychiatrists, mental illness experts, and epidemiologists. In 2018, a report by the FBI on 63 active shooter assailants found that 25 percent had been diagnosed with a mental illness, and three out of them were further diagnosed with a psychotic disorder. In 2015, a study that examined 226 men who committed or tried to commit mass killings, 22 percent were considered to be mentally ill. 


The Conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation, also estimated that a majority of mass shooters have mental illness, based in part on looser definitions and retroactive assessments. Now, thanks to research, another common explanation among the people of power has also been debunked. They are quick to say that violent video games are the main reason that are driving people to commit mass shootings.


The idea was floated again by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Trump, who talked of restricting “gruesome and grisly video games." However, there is just no link found between playing these violent video games and shooting people, according to Jonathan Metzl, director of the Center for Medicine, Health, and Society at Vanderbilt University.


The Secret Service and the Education Department conducted a research in 2004, where they found that 12 percent of perpetrators in more than three dozen school shootings showed an interest in violent video games. Even though that was almost 15 years ago, lawmakers and public figures continue to blame the gaming industry. “When politicians like President Trump perpetuate this narrative, to me, it is the height of irresponsibility, because it’s perpetuating a falsehood,” Metzl said.


Experts say that this eagerness to blame video games and mental health means that the society is searching for answers in the wrong places. “The irony is clearly we do need more robust mental health system,” said Arthur C. Evans Jr., a psychologist who heads the American Psychological Association. “But that’s separate and apart from these shootings." People with serious mental disorders are 3.6 times as likely to exhibit violent behavior, according to the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions


But, it was also found that they are far more likely to be the general victims of violence, and at 23 times the risk, at that, compared to the general population. A study published in the journal Annals of Epidemiology found that “the large majority of people with mental disorders do not engage in violence against others, and that most violent behavior is due to factors other than mental illness.” Phillip Resnick, who served as a forensic psychiatrist in cases including Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and Unabomber Ted Kaczynski said, “We like to think that anyone who kills others is somehow mentally ill."


Last year, in an interview, Resnick said, “you have to remember, people kill for all sorts of reasons. They kill for profit or love or greed.” Mental health advocates say comments like Trump's labeling shooters as “mentally ill monsters” can create a false prejudice about the mentally ill. “When you blame people with mental illness for things like mass shootings, it’s not just untrue,” said Angela Kimball, head of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.


“It keeps people from seeking help even when they need it. It spreads unjustified fears about the mentally ill and worsens the stigma around it," she added.  "Mental illness is not the real issue, because mental illness is something that happens across the globe. Mass shootings? Not so much,” Kimball said. “The sad truth is that in America, it’s easy to get a gun. It’s very difficult to get mental health care.” America has nearly 400 million civilian-owned firearms, or 120.5 guns per 100 residents — meaning that the country has more guns than it has people, according to the Small Arms Survey



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