Is Mental Illness a Contributing Factor to Mass Shootings?

Active shooter and mental illness II

Hi All,

Please read this Washington Post article entitled “Are video games or mental illness causing America’s mass shootings? No, research shows.”

There is a statement in this article which is: “The fact that somebody would go out and massacre a bunch of strangers, that’s not the act of a healthy mind, but that doesn’t mean they have a mental illness.

This is a very important article which challenges some of the assumed (and mostly unchallenged) truths that serve as the foundation of much of our (i.e., those in the professional world of (professional) Law Enforcement, Public Safety, Security, Healthcare Security, etc.) daily work.

For the record, I don’t necessarily agree with everything stated in the article. For instance, if we’re defining “mental illness” along strict, pedantic lines (e.g., maintaining the stance that someone who would massacre a bunch of strangers is not mentally ill), then clearly we (collectively, as professionals in disciplines and citizens in society) need to re-frame how we define what constitutes the spectrum from mental wellness to mental illness.

One merely needs to have spent a few years living on this planet to observe that times are now different than decades ago. There is a generalized anxiety throughout the United States that is different than decades ago.  Data depicts this (you can look it up on your own).  So does our own experience. It is as if people now struggle much more than in the past to cope with stress.

Part of my study of this topic is that today’s increase in anxiety cannot be divorced from all the many changes we see in society including, for instance, workplace violence and active shootings.  I propose for everyone’s consideration that the degree to which we witness people continuing to lose their ability to cope is the degree to which we will see violence continue to rise and/or morph into new “strains” (so to speak) of violence.

I am a huge proponent of working to not stigmatize those who suffer with behavioral health/psychiatric issues.  I will not, for instance, contribute to programming which seeks to criminalize the mentally ill.  Many of us in healthcare security management know that this last point is a hard one to manage (even among the so-called care-givers).  I also intentionally steer clear of stigmatizing language such as referring to people who suffer with behavioral health/psychiatric issues as “psychs.”

Having said this and being sensitive to the entirety of the issue, however, I also cannot grasp that we could exclude from the category of mental illness someone who would massacre strangers for no motive other than to massacre them (i.e., an active shooter/active assailant).

Is it because the precise pathological root for what inspires an active assailant is not explicitly listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders used by mental health professionals to diagnose and treat mental illnesses?  Perhaps.

This author struggles to come to terms with how a human being can commit horrible acts of atrocity (e.g., an active shooting event) but not be mentally ill.  I get it that there may not be a definitive, descriptive diagnosis in the DSM manual.  If that is the case, then clearly there is research that needs to rapidly occur to grow the precision of the DSM material.

Please see this useful article which expounds more on why active shooters may not be mentally healthy while also not being mentally ill.  Much food for thought here (which hopefully will inspire constructive action).

For the sake of discussion, let’s say we do this and the DSM manual one day includes a diagnosis which might explain the pathology of an active shooter.  Then there might be some way to connect mental illness with active shootings.  Will this, however, even help?  Is this even a valuable angle to pursue, namely the connection or not of mental illness to active shooter events?  This author is skeptical that it would.

My skepticism is rooted in my knowing that there would still exist (in the minds of most, though not all, people) a myopic fixation on the point of impact (i.e., the actual shooting event), as opposed to an proactive, mitigative, preventive awareness which is very much active and far upstream from the actual shooting event.  In other words (as I’ve shared here before), in order to actually, and in a sustainable manner, reduce the frequency of active shooting events, we must literally be treating this issue as a complete reformation of how we raise children from the moment they pop out of the womb.  Waiting, and placing the bulk of our awareness (which is largely fear-driven) and resources on the near-shooting or actual shooting (or knifing, or clubbing, or car-ing), is way too late.

It is time to transform this issue and not simply continue to manage it.  The time is now to get to work on this.

Frederick Douglass Building Children



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