With the rising tide of gun violence in New York and across the country, there has been significant disagreement among politicians about how to best address weapons crimes. Some have called for an increased focus on mental health as a way to potentially prevent mass shootings. While the nation’s mental health system is underfunded and in disarray, a better understanding of the treatment of mental disorders could potentially mitigate some weapons crimes. A sizable percentage of incarcerated people have been diagnosed with personality disorders, for example. However, solely focusing on mental health is unlikely to stave off the wave of violence. Instead, a comprehensive approach that incorporates better laws might be more effective.
What are personality disorders?
Personality disorders are psychiatric disorders characterized by persistent personality traits that result in maladjustment, including difficult social relationships and problems with overall functioning. Several personality disorders are included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – 5 (DSM-5), which is used by psychiatrists and psychologists as a reference for diagnosing various mental disorders and designing appropriate interventions and treatments.
When people commit weapons crimes such as mass shootings, some politicians are quick to blame mental illness for weapons crimes instead of focusing on the need for increased regulation of firearms. In a comprehensive study of active shooters between 2000 and 2013 conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the agency found that only 25% of active shooters had a diagnosis of a mental illness. Out of the 12 shooters who were diagnosed with mental health disorders before their attacks, two had diagnoses of personality disorders.
Treating personality disorders is difficult as they are generally not amenable to psychotropic medications. However, several psychological therapies are effective in the treatment of personality disorders, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychodynamic therapy, and others. While an increased focus on effective treatment of mental disorders is needed, the prevention of weapons crimes deserves a more holistic approach than simply focusing on one facet of the problem.