Published On: Fri, May 25th, 2018

Is America’s Mental Health Crisis the Culprit of Gun Violence?

When a young while male stormed into a South Carolina church and opened fire killing nine black parishioners in a racist rage, his lawyers argued that he suffered from numerous mental disorders.

The same reason was given when a deranged man gunned down 26 worshippers at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

And again, we heard the same refrain – the suspect was struggling with mental illness – after the school shootings in Kentucky, in Parkland and just last week in Texas.

Another common thread is that after each mass shooting, politicians on both sides of the aisle have pointed the finger at mental illness. Come on now, such rhetoric has become too common following violent acts. How many times have we heard our elected officials say that guns are not the issue? Just like clockwork, every time there has been a gun-related mass killing they are quick to offer their prayers and declare that something must be done to find help for those struggling with mental illness. Then, nothing gets done. And then there’s another shooting. Yet people keep dying and their thoughts and prayers aren’t solving anything.

I often wonder why so many politicians and others try to make mental illness the root cause of these heinous acts of violence.

I am not a medical expert. So as a journalist, whenever I need to find the answer to anything, I do the research. I ask the experts.

My research has shown that only a very small percentage of violent acts are committed by people who are diagnosed with, or in treatment for, mental illness.

Studies show that only four percent of criminal violence in the United States are caused by people with mental illness.

Mental health experts have been trying for years to shed some light on this million dollar question.

It is a fact that severe mental illnesses are found more often among mass murderers.

Dr. Michael Stone, a Columbia University forensic psychiatrist who maintains a database of 350 mass shooters going back more than a century, found that about 22 percent – only 52 out of the 235 killers in the database – suffered from mental illness.

But only about one in five – about 1 percent – are likely psychotic or delusional, Stone found.

“The mentally ill should not bear the burden of being regarded as the ‘chief’ perpetrators of mass murder,” Stone wrote in a 2015 article.

I also discovered studies that suggest in reality that people with mental illness are rarely violent in an external sense. They are more likely to commit suicide rather than kill others if they have access to firearms.

It soon became clear to me that the reason the mental health system fails to prevent mass shootings is that mental illness is rarely the cause of such violence. Simply put, if all potential mass shooters received psychiatric care, there is no reliable cure for angry young white men who harbor violent fantasies.

Many who have spent their lives studying, diagnosing and treating mental illnesses say the laws intended to stop the mentally ill from buying guns are too narrow and easily sidestepped.

Which leaves me to think that the suspects are not the problem, the real pathology is access to guns.

Therefore, I am left with no other theory than it is unfair and inaccurate to blame mental illness for the atrocities against random innocent strangers.

On a more upbeat note, kudos to Delray Beach’s Assistant Director of Human Resources Duane D’Andrea who recently was elected to the Florida Public Employer Labor Relations Association board.

FPELRA assists and represents cities in human resource hearings against employees.

The U.S. Navy Sailor is a certified EEO investigator and a certified mediator. He also holds a Florida Certified Labor Relations Professional certification as well as his Professional in Human Resources and Society of Human Resources Certified Professional designations.

Before coming to Delray Beach, he was a labor relations officer for CSX railroad.

 

  1. Ron Allen can be reached at crallen@Delraybeachtribune.com or 561-665-0151.

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