Mental health and gun violence are often linked together when there is little, if any, causality statistically speaking. It’s natural to look for a reason when someone shoots others. Why did they do this? We want to try understand. It is too easy though to jump to the conclusion that it is solely due to mental health reasons when someone is out of control with a weapon. If it turns out that there was any history of therapy or anti-depressants, this is blamed for the violence – erroneous reasoning. Overwhelming evidence and research does not support this incorrect assumption.
I have worked with criminals over many years, some with mental health issues, others without and I can confirm that there is never ONE reason why someone snaps and kills others. Never. When you look into it, there are a number of reasons that come together. It could be a number of stressors or current triggers along with a recent bereavement or an event that has upset the individual or it could be that they started out in life disadvantaged by a loveless childhood. It is a catalogue of events that end in tragedy and there are often many warning signs along the way.
It is foolish and wrong to make an instant and direct connection between mental health and gun violence. It creates a barrier between the general public and people with mental health issues. Many with depression and anxiety do NOT go on to harm others. In fact, they are far more likely to harm themselves.
Mental illness and gun violence
There is little evidence to support the idea that individuals diagnosed with a mental illness are any more likely to commit a crime of gun violence than anyone else. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, fewer than 5 percent of the 120,000 gun-related killings in the U.S. between 2001-2010 were carried out by individuals diagnosed with a mental illness. And the fact that one person with a mental illness committed a mass shooting does not make that person representative of others with that type of mental illness. Many common mental health diagnoses—including anxiety, depression, and attention deficit disorder—have no correlation with violent behavior at all.
What does predict gun violence?
Mental illness may not be a good predictor of gun violence, but there are many other factors that we know increase the risk of firearm death and injury.
Alcohol and substance abuse “increase the risk of violent crime by as much as 7-fold, even among persons with no history of mental illness,” according to an extensive review article in the American Journal of Public Health. In fact, the incidence of gun violence for a person diagnosed with severe mental illness increased significantly only when that individual was also suffering from substance abuse or chemical dependence.
Access to weapons
Access to weapons is another known predictor of gun violence. For instance, having a gun in the home is statistically associated with an increased risk of firearm homicide and suicide in that home. In addition, states with lax gun control laws and higher rates of gun ownership have “disproportionately high numbers of deaths from firearm-related homicides,” according to the AJPH review. Domestic abuse plays an important role in gun violence as well.
In a study looking at femicide (female homicide deaths) in the U.S., access to firearms was strongly associated with the death of a woman by her abusive partner. Other research has found that the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk that a woman will be murdered by 500 percent.
Alienation/poor social support
Not enough importance is placed upon social care and emotional well-being. It should be about prevention rather than being reactive. I have come across too many teenagers suffering from alienation, bullying and who feel they have nowhere to go. They are fearful of having to become an adult. They feel disenfranchised. Society is not doing enough to prevent bullying and an “us and them” mentality that appears in schools, colleges and universities.
Rather than seeking blame, we need to understand the underlying issues that are encouraging and contributing to gun violence. Limiting gun access to those with mental illness may seem to be the answer to those who know little about mental health but it would be like placing a plaster over a broken leg. On the surface, it appeases the general public but it will not repair or solve gun crime and violence.
To effectively prevent gun violence, there needs to be more education in schools on how to cope with stress and anxiety, how to maintain emotional well-being with easy access to therapists and people who can accept and ’embrace’ those who feel alienated. They need to feel accepted on some level and this might be all that is needed to break the destructive cycle. When life seems awful, it can feel as if there is little to lose by committing gun violence. When someone feels valued and important, miraculous changes can take place and I have personally witnessed this in my therapy sessions with clients. That human connection is extremely positive and powerful – especially for the good of society as a whole. Governments need to take note and place more funding to help with psychoeducation and social support. Encourage human connecting and a sense of belonging. If someone feels there is hope and someone cares, their risk drops dramatically.
For further reading on mental health and gun violence: https://ammo.com/articles/ssri-antidepressants-mass-shootings-violent-side-effects
Please note that thoughts on life and love encourages open debate but this does not mean that we necessarily agree with all points in the above article (See the link)