The Truth About Mental Health and Mass Shootings
Council for Relationships Staff Therapist Briana Bogue, LMFT is a therapist, teacher, and advocate. She also serves as Associate Director of Healthy Relationships and Wellness: psycho-educational skill-building workshops at Council for Relationships.
Like everyone else, I am struggling to digest the news of two mass shootings in under 24 hours in this country. My heart goes out to those involved and their loved ones. No one should ever have to experience such atrocious trauma and loss.
But unlike everyone else, I work every day with people who experience mental illness and trauma; and hold multiple degrees in psychology, Couple and Family Therapy, and social research. I feel that at times like these, it is my job to set the record straight on mental health and gun violence. Mental illness is not to blame for gun violence, especially not mass shootings or domestic terrorism. This article will address why we cannot say that gun violence is a mental health issue.
“Why can’t we say that mental illness is to blame for gun violence? After all, people must be crazy to kill that many people and post hateful manifestos online.”
People who are mentally ill are almost never violent. In fact, Mental Health America states that 95-97% of gun violence is not caused by mental illness. Saying that gun violence is a mental health crisis adds to the stigma that already exists for mentally ill people – a stigma that is unfounded. In reality, those with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than they are to be violent.
Blaming mental illness for gun violence makes people afraid of mental illness and people who have it. This creates a culture where mental illness is shameful, hidden, and isolated from the mainstream. It is not talked about. In this environment, people do not seek treatment when they need it because they are afraid of what people might think of them. This could also lead to underfunding programs that help mentally ill people access care.
If mentally ill people ever do become violent (which mostly ends up being a suicide attempt, not gun violence towards others), it is often because they have not been able to access treatment, or the treatment has failed, due to lack of resources and other treatment barriers. Untreated mental illness is NOT the problem of the patient, rather, it is a failure of the mental healthcare system. Calling gun violence a mental health issue actually adds to the stigma about mentally ill people as scary and untreatable, leading to their marginalization. Rather, we need to rally around people who are mentally ill in order to help them get the treatment they need and live a normal or nearly normal life. Unfortunately, fear of mental illness is a convenient cover for the other things that lead to mass shootings.
The issue is that we need more acceptance of mental illness, more access to voluntary and affordable mental healthcare, and more discussion about the true causes of mass shootings. We need less blaming of mental illness, less culture of hate, and less obstruction of truth.
How You Can Help
If you or anyone you know is experiencing a mental health emergency, call 911, go to your nearest emergency room for a psychiatric evaluation, or contact your local mental health crisis line. In Philadelphia, this is 215-685-6440. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-8255, and you can also text 273TALK to 839863.
No one should ever have to experience the pain and fear of mass shootings. Please remember to take care of yourselves, and each other, as we navigate this time together as a community and country.
Visit Mental Health America for more data and discussion about mental health and gun violence.
To request an appointment, visit this page.