Mass shootings have devastated New York and other parts of the country just this year alone. Politicians and the media often automatically blame these acts of violence on mental health problems. Is there a link between gun violence and mental illness?
Mental health and guns
When a mass shooting occurs and people are senselessly murdered, the public tends to blame it on mental health disorders. Although people might automatically think that a gunman in a mass shooting is mentally ill, there is no definitive link between mental health disorders and gun violence. In reality, only around 5% of such incidents are linked to severe mental illness. More perpetrators involved in gun violence are affected by other disorders like depression and substance use disorder. However, these conditions are usually incidental and the people involved in the shootings often have no such issues.
Stigma on mental illness
There is a stigma against people with mental illness and a false belief that people who struggle with it are prone to violence. However, misconceptions remain when it comes to gun violence and mass shootings. Past incidents might indicate that mass shooters suffered from mental health disorders when they turned the gun on themselves. Examples include the Columbine shooting massacre and the Virginia Tech mass shooting. In the case of mass murderers like these, however, the goal is to die through suicide by cop, which doesn’t automatically equate to mental illness.
Usually, mental illness is used as a scapegoat as people look for a reason behind mass shootings. This is in line with pointing to TV, movies, music or video games as being to blame for some negative behavior or action. However, linking such violent acts to mental illness is harmful to those struggling with such disorders. It could lead to those with mental illness not seeking help.
Ultimately, the biggest reasons for these violent acts are rage and hatred. Mental illness has nothing to do with either.