With more than 200 mass shootings in the US since 2006, it is no wonder that the reason these events occur with such a great frequency has become the focus of much contentious debate. What is needed to bring an end to the polarized sides surrounding this issue? For one, the public needs to be more frequently educated about mental illness and its effects on the human brain, so as to better understand it. Peter Byrne says that “the stigma of mental illness…remains a powerful negative attribute in all social relations.” The fact of the matter is that many adults still do not understand the basics of mental illness and the effects of stereotyping the mentally ill, including the fact that it causes violence. However, “violence is not a product of mental illness; violence is a product of anger” and those who are emotionally underdeveloped or challenged, which is not most mentally ill people. For the few who may be emotionally compromised from certain mental illnesses, such as borderline personality disorder, better early access and screenings to the mental health system is essential so that feelings of anger are not left untreated and thereby directed at others. Although, the first step in ending the debate about mental illness and its relationship to gun violence is recognizing that it is not directly the cause.
Welcome back to our blog! If you can’t recall, my last few blog posts have focused on whether or not mental illness is actually a contributing factor to gun violence in the United States. One factor I haven’t quite taken into account is the social context surrounding this relationship. For example, I came across an article that investigated the link between violent behaviors, mental illness, and alcohol/drug abuse. It found that, far greater than the symptoms associated with most mental illnesses, alcohol and drug addiction raise the chances of committing a violent crime — as much as 7 fold. This fact becomes important when one considers the current public perception of mental illness. Even with campaigns and increasing awareness, most people still poorly understand what mental illness actually is and what its effects might be on a person, which make stereotyping incredibly easy. Many people tend to associate mental illness with negative actions, in some cases even dehumanizing the mentally ill. As a result, those who might be suffering from a mental illness and need help may avoid seeking help, for fear of being degraded by society and perceived as a pariah. In turn, many begin self-medicating to cope with their symptoms, which may foster a drug or alcohol addiction that can drastically increase chances of committing violent crime. My point in all of this, is that mental illness itself is not inherently a risk factor for violent crime. Instead, the risk factors that may be associated with mental illness, such as drug abuse, are often major influencing factors in violent crime committed by the mentally ill.
If you don’t recall my last blog post, go ahead and take a look! This week, I’m taking a closer look at the changing definition of mental illness and how this impacts our perception of it in relation to gun violence. Though the mentally ill account for a minute portion of violent crimes in the US, statistically, the number of crimes committed by those with mental illness has generally risen over the last few years. Before 2000, there were only 40 mass shootings recorded, whereas 160 have occurred after 2000 (a large portion of those in 2013 and 2014). Does this mean that mentally ill people are more likely to commit violent crimes now more than ever? Not necessarily. A substantial reason this trend has been occurring is because of the changing definition of mental illness and increasing diagnoses of it by medical professionals. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, mental illness is defined as “…a condition that impacts a person’s thinking, feeling or mood and may affect his or her ability to relate to others and function on a daily basis.” Seems pretty broad, right? That’s because it is, and as we learn more about the inner workings of the human brain and various disorders, this definition applies to more and more people. Statistical methods of acquiring data on mental illness and gun violence are limited because they don’t take into account the medical community’s standards for diagnosing mental illness. In short, we should take statistics with a grain of salt, for they only tell a small part of the story.
I have to admit, I am still contemplating the arguments and statistics I’ve read online, so it’s hard to make a decisive judgement call about the relationship between the mentally ill and shootings. I’m inclined to support the side of this argument saying that the gun violence isn’t just attributed to mental illness, because there’s a lot of social and historical context to take into account. At the same time, on a fundamental level, it’s often hard not to jump to conclusions and assume that a “normal” person could lash out against society in such a radical manner.
In the wake of the tragic shooting at Umpqua Community College on October 1st, presidential candidate and entrepreneur Donald Trump stated in an interview with NBC that “You’re going to have problems no matter how good, no matter what kind of checks you do, you know, what kind of laws. Now, with that, I think mental health, we have to do better. We have to do a much better job with mental health.” In one sentence, Mr. Trump has effectively summarized one of the greatest debates surrounding the polarizing issue of gun violence in our country. Partially as a result of media coverage and the light that it cast events such as this one in, mental health has been deeply intertwined with mass shooting events such as this one as the perpetuator. Given the extreme nature of these events, it seems logical to assume that only a person who’s sick in the head could carry out a mass shooting. A large portion of the American public, though largely divided on gun control, does appear to support this argument. According to two recent national surveys, nearly 1 out of 2 people attribute gun violence to the failure of the mental health system.
While it is true that some forms of mental illness, such as schizophrenia, can increase the likelihood of violent behavior, assuming that all forms of mental illness (including schizophrenia) cause people to take such extreme measures is simply too broad and too inadequately evidenced an argument. Those suffering from mental illness already face an uphill battle in legitimizing their health concerns, and painting their conditions in this manner only serves to distance them from the rest of society. Perhaps the real issue at hand is ease of access to guns for that minute percent of the general population that decides to act against society in this way.
Thoughts on this issue? Let us know!!
Welcome to our blog! My name is Jonathan, and I am a member of a group that is exploring the polarizing topic of gun violence and control in the United States. As a millennial, it’s hard to deny that we hear about mass shootings and violence committed with firearms more frequently than we ever have before from the media, and for good reason, too. According to the Chicago Tribune, there have been almost 100 shootings in educational institutions since the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012. Many believe the issue is black-and-white (thus explaining the polarizability of the issue): either the government institutes more gun controls to resolve this problem or we, as Americans, protect our second amendment right and work harder to tackle the issue from another perspective, such as mental illness. However, the topic has many facets that create a issue that is not so clear.
As a group, our goal is to dissect and analyze each of these issues to support our stance(s) on gun control. I personally will be exploring the relationship between gun violence and the way it is often linked to mental illness in the media. According to the BBC, after yesterday’s shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, 2016 presidential candidate Donald Trump stated that the “terrible tragedy sounds like another mental health problem”. The blame for mass shootings is often placed on the mental illness of an individual, but such claims are often unsupported, and I believe this creates an illogical and automatic association between the two among the public.
Mental illness is not the only subject that complicates gun control. There are many topics we will be discussing such as the two camps it has created in politics, the manner in which the media analyzes and disseminates the public on the issue, and the reason that mass shootings do seem to be occurring more frequently. Each issue is inherently linked to the other in this broad topic, and our goal is to explore these links in order to educate the masses and support our stance(s) on gun control.