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Gun Violence, Mental Health: A Tenuous Link

A 2018 report by the FBI found that of 63 active shooter assailants, only 25% had been diagnosed with a mental illness, and only three with a psychotic disorder. (avi_acl/pixabay)
A 2018 report by the FBI found that of 63 active shooter assailants, only 25% had been diagnosed with a mental illness, and only three with a psychotic disorder. (avi_acl/pixabay)
September 3, 2019

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The holiday weekend brought another mass shooting to Texas, the second in less than a month. But one psychiatrist who studies gun violence says blaming mass shootings on mental illness won't stop future incidents.

Police say the latest suspect, a white male in his 30s, used an AR-type assault rifle - a common factor across recent mass shootings. Amy Barnhorst, vice chair of community psychiatry at the University of California Davis, said many of the shooters would not fit a diagnosis of being mentally ill.

"I think there's a perception that anybody who would do something this horrible must, by definition, be mentally ill,” Barnhorst said. “But they don't have a specific mental illness that we could treat, or that we have medications for."

Following two recent shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, President Donald Trump said he was considering revised laws to reduce gun violence, but has since retreated from that position, instead touting new mental institutions as a solution. The weekend shooting in Texas left seven dead and 20 injured. The gunman began shooting people at random after a traffic stop by police.

According to a survey from the Treatment Advocacy Center, the number of state hospital beds that serve the nation's most seriously ill patients has fallen from more than 550,000 in the 1950s to fewer than 38,000 in the first half of 2016.

Barnhorst said expanding mental health services is necessary, but won't produce miracles.

“Because we really do need more money, more beds, more therapists, more doctors - our mental health system is really failing,” she said. “But if we want to address the mass shooting problem, addressing the mental health system is not going to help."

Barnhorst said what ties together many of the perpetrators is a sense of both victimhood and entitlement - with several expressing envy of others and feeling they deserve something the world isn't providing.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - MN