Guns and Mental Illness

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What We Actually Know About the Connections Between Mental Illness, Mass Shootings, and Gun Violence

 • June 10, 2014 • 3:40 PM

(Photo: oneo/Shutterstock)

 A conversation with Dr. Jeffrey Swanson.

After mass shootings, like the ones these past weeks in Las Vegas, Seattle, and Santa Barbara, the national conversation often focuses on mental illness. So what do we actually know about the connections between mental illness, mass shootings, and gun violence overall?

To separate the facts from the media hype, we talked to Dr. Jeffrey Swanson, a professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Duke University School of Medicine, and one of the leading researchers on mental health and violence. Swanson talked about the dangers of passing laws in the wake of tragedy—and which new violence-prevention strategies might actually work.

Here is a condensed version of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Mass shootings are relatively rare events that account for only a tiny fraction of American gun deaths each year. But when you look specifically at mass shootings―how big a factor is mental illness?

On the face of it, a mass shooting is the product of a disordered mental process. You don’t have to be a psychiatrist: What normal person would go out and shoot a bunch of strangers?

“If someone has a history of any kind of violent or assaultive behavior, that’s actually a better predictor of future violence than having a mental health diagnosis. If someone has a conviction for a violent misdemeanor, we think there’s evidence, they ought to be prohibited [from owning guns.]“

But the risk factors for a mass shooting are shared by a lot of people who aren’t going to do it. If you paint the picture of a young, isolated, delusional young man—that probably describes thousands of other young men.

2001 study looked specifically at 34 adolescent mass murderers, all male. 70 percent were described as a loner. 61.5 percent had problems with substance abuse. 48 percent had preoccupations with weapons; 43.5 percent had been victims of bullying. Only 23 percent had a documented psychiatric history of any kind―which means three out of four did not.

Please read more: http://www.psmag.com/navigation/health-and-behavior/actually-know-connections-mental-illness-mass-shootings-gun-violence-83103/

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About Brian Fulmer

Brian is the owner of Crossroads Property Management Inc. (www.crossroadsproperty.com) He writes six blogs and has written two books. He also works with various missions around the world. His first love is Guatemala.
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