What Society Doesn't Know About Mental Illness and Gun Violence

When we as humans think of something horrific, we look for a reason, we demand that there is an answer behind someone's violence or anger. There must be an explanation for something that we would never think twice about doing. A million or more times social media, our minds, or the society we live in, go directly to the two words “Mental Illness”. You turn on the news and there it is, another act of violence, and all of a sudden your Facebook, Twitter,Instagram, etc.. blows up to “we need to work on mental health accessibility!!” or the famous “please reach out to your friends and family, you never know what they are going through! Mental Illness is powerful!” Ah yes, society automatically diagnosing, and accusing the perpetrator of having a mental illness when most of the time, they don’t.

Mental illness and gun violence have been going together like coffee and cake lately, you can’t have one without the other. It’s an easy explanation behind someone's madness. Well I'm here to tell you, most people are just simply mad with no mental illness at all, and that gun they are controlling causes more suicides to people who suffer from a mental illness more than people with a mental illness use it to harm others. Only a small 4% of the population will be diagnosed with a severe mental illness and only 1% of the population is Schizophrenic. Perpetuating a made up myth that mental illness is the cause of mass shootings or gun violence only serves to stigmatize the mentally ill even further. 

Mental illness cannot be lumped into one distinct disorder with a set of symptoms that definitely leads to violence, there are a variety of different mental illnesses. Surveys have found that the majority of people believe that mental illness is directly correlated to violence, it seems much easier to point a finger but the reality is, most individuals with a mental illness are not violent. If we as society are wanting reasoning behind shootings we should try to take take the time to look at the facts. Life-course-persistent offending begins in childhood and continues in adulthood with more crime, less education, lower income, unhappy marriages, and violence. (Just a disclaimer these are not the only reasons, but more so a list of examples). Most of these leading points to crime do not include having a mental illness. Even if the small fraction of the already small fraction of people who are diagnosed with a mental illness were more likely to commit gun violence, they would not be able to account for most of the gun violence because of their low numbers.

Believing that mental illness could be a big cause of gun violence can feel “reassuring” if you will because people want answers, it also helps to believe that only a mentally ill person could do something so horrible, but this leads some to think that if someone is mentally ill they are easier to identify as a shooter, but there has been evidence that suggest that mental illness only causes a very small fraction of mass shootings and even if some shooters have a undiagnosed mental illness, there is no evidence to suggest that they could have been diagnosed prior to their gun violence or that such diagnosis would increase the predictive validity of a diagnosis on gun violence. Some might even argue that having a mental illness can increase your chances of having uncontrollable emotions, thoughts, and actions which can lead to deadly crime towards society but someone who is struggling with a mental illness are far more likely to harm themselves rather than strangers. A person with a diagnosed mental illness are also far more likely to be victims of gun violence rather than the perpetrators.

Blaming mental health problems for gun violence in America gives the public the false impression that most people with a mental illness are dangerous, when in fact a vast majority will never commit violence. Few mass killers have a clinically diagnosed mental illness, thus, pointing to mental illness as the cause of gun violence is not only misleading, but it could also increase the stigma around mental illness as well as make people less willing to seek help. It is important to be aware of where we are pointing the blame or the causation of gun violence, to be using what essentially I would say a “scapegoat” can create an unsafe environment to speak up when one is concerned about their mental state.

I look at mental health as our basic hygiene, we shower every day, we brush our teeth everyday, we brush our hair, change into clean clothes, and this is looked at as basic care. If we as a society started to look at mental health this way such as going to therapy, getting a full night of sleep, being expressive about how we feel, admitting we aren't perfect, doing something for ourselves each day, I believe we would create a more accepting and open environment for those who are struggling in hiding rather than pointing fingers or accusing all who do something wrong with a mental diagnosis.



National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1(800)-273-8255

National Domestic Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 or if needed in Spanish: 1-800-787-3224