I do not believe that mass shootings are a mental health issue. In fact, I think that is a slap in the face to millions of people who would never think to kill anyone! (For the record, I don’t think they can be fixed with gun control either, but that’s not really the point of my post.) My post is not a political post, but rather a defense of “mentally ill people” and a call for more education about domestic violence and the red flags of sociopathy.
Firstly, there are a LOT of “mentally ill” people in this world who will never be killers. Mental illness is so common, that nearly everyone will experience it at some point. In fact, there is an entire diagnostic book to describe all the different mental illnesses there are! (The DSM.)
Mental illnesses include things like depression, PTSD, acute stress disorder, (which is like the short term form of PTSD,) anxiety, eating disorders, and more. Per the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five adults has a mental health problem each year. So at any time, 20% of the population may be “mentally ill,” but certainly they aren’t all dangerous or even close to it.
To label mass murders a “mental health problem,” is offensive and is not representative of millions of “mentally ill” but non-dangerous people. To spit out the term “mentally ill” as though the person is tainted and violent and hopeless is to create an inaccurate stereotype and promote an unnecessary stigma. Someone you love is probably mentally ill. I’ve been “mentally ill” after the trauma of a violent and abusive relationship. MANY of us have been. Depression, anxiety and PTSD, (as well as other mental health conditions,) are common reactions to chaos and abuse, and yet I’ve never had any desire or thought to hurt people, and I’m guessing most people who read this who are or have been “mentally ill” haven’t either. Being traumatized is bad enough. We don’t need to be relegated to being considered potentially dangerous whack jobs who need special handling!
So what WOULD help with mass shootings? Instead of blaming inanimate guns, instead of limiting responsible gun owners, instead of acting like “mentally ill” people are dirty and different, why don’t we educate people on the warning signs of a person who truly is dangerous? There is mental illness, but then there are personality disorders, (which are technically a mental illness.) And even then, there are different levels of malicious behavior within personality disorders. For example, I’m far more worried about someone with anti-social personality disorder than I am about a person with dependent personality disorder.
Whenever a mass shooting occurs, it is not uncommon to learn that the shooter had a history of red flag behavior that led up to their ultimate evil. The man who shot at congressmen earlier this year had a history of raging behavior and domestic violence, and yet he never faced consequences, never raised any red flags, and never had any indication of his behavior that would show up on a background check. The most recent shooter in San Antonio had a history of domestic violence and animal abuse. Yes, these guys were “mentally ill,” but more importantly, they were personality disordered with a lifelong trail of destructive patterns.
When someone I used to know killed his wife and himself a few years ago, the warning signs WERE there. They were in the middle of a divorce, and he’d been in front of the judge at least a dozen times, and no one noticed the signs that he was disordered. I saw them clearly in the false front he put on for Facebook because I’d dealt with a sociopath, but when he committed a murder homicide, too many people were shocked.
With the various recent mass shootings, the warning signs were there. I would have recognized them. But…most people wouldn’t. Most people who haven’t dealt closely with a sociopath are looking for big, obvious, scary signs, but in reality, sociopathy shows through in subtle hints if you are watching from the outside. The San Antonio shooter had all kinds of signs, and he’d been before a judge more than once. Was he lumped in with all the other “normal” jerks? Just another day in the courthouse? Did a judge not see his repeated behavior, the clear patterns? Did the judge not recognize them for what they are? Apparently not, because this guy slipped through a huge crack!
This shooting problem is not just about “mental illness.” It’s about far deeper problems–personality flaws that cannot be fixed. Sick and malicious individuals with no conscience, no respect for others or the law, and no thought for anyone but themselves. It’s cruel to lump all the normal, sane but “mentally ill” people going through a hard time together with someone sick enough to commit mass murders. We can certainly educate ourselves and others to recognize danger signs rather than vilifying all “mentally ill” people.
The only mental health problem we have is the inability to see others as humans rather than stigmas. The problem of mass shooters is about evil and disordered personalities.
One thought on “Why mass shootings are not a mental health issue”
I couldn’t agree more! Having lived with a psychopath and having worked for a clinical psychologist, I know full well that there’s a world of difference between those with most mental illnesses and those with dangerous personality disorders. Like you, I could spot the signs fairly easily, but as you say, most people can’t … and so they slip through the cracks and so many people die unnecessarily. You make some really salient points in this post. TY.