Mental Illness Link to Mass Violence Misleading

Provided by The Associated Press


FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – When mass shootings happen in public places, people are left asking why. Why would someone go into a school or movie theater or mall and shoot strangers? Investigators, lawmakers, analysts and the media search for somewhere to place the blame and find a way to prevent the tragedies from happening again.

That blame often lands on mental illness.


Reports suggest that in the mass shootings in the United States since 1970, around 60 percent of the perpetrators showed symptoms of depression, delusions, and paranoia, according to an article in the American Journal of Public Health.

“[Society] always wants to ascribe a mental illness to people who do pretty depraved things,” Dr. Stephen Ross, a clinical and forensic psychologist, said.

Linking mental illness as a root cause of mass shootings is oversimplifying it, though, and it can be misleading.

“What we don’t want to say is those with mental illnesses are more likely to commit violent acts. In fact, that’s not the case,” Ross said.


A 2001 study of 34 adolescent mass murderers found most were described as loners and abused drugs or alcohol, around half were bullied and fantasied about violence, but only 23 percent had a documented psychiatric history. Only six percent were deemed psychotic when they committed their crime.

“There are some folks who have done mass shootings who have killed people,” Ross said. “They may not be mentally ill, but they’re socially and morally depraved. It’s evil. Evil in its truest form.”

It’s estimated only three to five percent of violent acts are committed by someone with a serious mental illness. A person suffering from a mental illness is also more likely to become a victim of violence than they are to commit a violent act.

“We’re talking about a very small section of people with mental illness who have gone out and been violent to other people,” Ted Coburn, the president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness(NAMI) Fort Wayne, said. “If you have a serious mental illness, you’re more likely to hurt yourself than another person.”