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Psychologists Warn Against Blaming Active Mass Shooting Incidents On Mental Illness

With the recent deadly active shooter incident at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a few weeks ago followed by another shooting at YouTube headquarters in San Bruno, California, on April 3, the debate on the mental status of the suspects is again at the forefront of discussion on gun violence, as well as the policies that seek to address it.

Active mass shootings are just a small percentage of all gun-related deaths. In the data gathered by Gun Violence Archive, there were 62 mass shooting incidents reported in the United States from January 1 to April 8, 2018. Against the total number of gun-related incidents, mass shooting incidents account for only 0.004 percent. However, it gains much attention because the events occur unexpectedly and the victims happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Can We Blame Mental Health for Active Mass Shooting Incidents?

Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year old suspect of the Parkland, Florida, shooting, was previously referred to a south Florida mental health facility after posting a Snapchat video of himself cutting his arms and stating his intent to purchase a gun. After evaluation, Henderson Behavioral Health professionals found no cause to hospitalize him as he was compliant with his medications for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), depression, and autism.

In response to the Florida shooting incident, American Psychological Association President Jessica Henderson Daniel, Ph.D. warned public officials and journalists to be more careful about associating mental health with violence. “It is important to remember that only a small percentage of violent acts are committed by people who are diagnosed with, or in treatment for, mental illness,” said Daniel in a press release. “Framing the conversation about gun violence in the context of mental illness does a disservice to the victims of violence and unfairly stigmatizes the many others with mental illness.”

According to a book published by the APA in 2016, titled Gun Violence and Mental Illness, mass shootings carried out by individuals with serious mental illness account for less than 1 percent of annual gun-related homicides.

Columbia University forensic psychiatrist Dr. Michael Stone claims that while it is true that mass murderers often have severe mental illnesses, about one in five most likely having delusional or psychotic disorders, they do not have any severe diagnosable disorder. “The majority of the killers were disgruntled workers or jilted lovers who were acting on a deep sense of injustice,” Stone explained of his analysis of mass murderers’ data.

While Cruz has a known history of mental illness, Nasim Aghdam, the suspect in the YouTube shooting incident that injured three people, is not known to suffer from any mental illness.

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