Why Mental Health Should Not Be Linked To Gun Violence
By Chris Lee, PMHNP-BC
Miami Beach, Florida - Americans are desperate to find a target. Something they can point at and say is the cause of all the mass violence in our schools, churches, and concerts. But aiming the gun at mental health is a misfire and a far distraction from the actual issue - guns.
After a teen murdered 17 people in the deadliest school shooting in years, President Trump vowed “to help secure our schools, and tackle the difficult issue of mental health.” People nodded their heads, and crowds cheered. It was something everybody felt they could agree upon.
Who could be capable of committing such a heinous act, but somebody who is deranged and different? Some might say they're "psycho" and others will call them sociopaths, but the question remains: what type of mental illness do these killers have, and how do we treat them?
In 2015, the National Institute of Health determined that "less than 5% of gun-related fatalities in America between 2001 and 2010 were committed by people with a mental illness," in a study of violence and it's relation to mental health.
"The large majority of people with mental disorders do not engage in violence against others, and most violent behavior is due to factors other than mental illness." The NIH concluded in 2016 that only 4% of violence can be associated with people with mental health disorders.
So who's doing the killing?
Murderers don't have mental health disorders. They are calculated, methodical, intelligent, and functional. They have jobs, families, friends, and even pets. The Parkland shooter was troubled, but he loved his dog and showed affection toward his foster family - signs that don't necessarily align with sociopathy.
Would a person with depression have the motivation and commitment to execute such a complex and planned-out killing? How about an anxious person? Would they have the confidence, the stability, or even the focus to shoot up a school? And let's talk about the word "psychotic" - a word that means something very different in psychiatry than it does on the street.
Psychotic symptoms include hallucinations, emotional flattening, responding to internal stimuli, and confused, delusional thoughts such as feeling like the FBI has planted a surveillance microchip in your brain.
The Parkland shooter demonstrated a precision that most people with mental illness would never be capable of attaining if they were so "mentally ill."
Mental health is struggling to fight stigma created by these times of crisis. Mental health becomes associated with violence and killing. People with mental health disorders become suspects; they are regarded as potentially dangerous. They may have trouble being admitted to schools and getting hired for jobs.
The problem here is that people with mental health disorders will not get the help that they need. People will be scared to be labeled and judged. They will be dishonest about which medications they are taking and will be afraid to bring a sick note from their psychiatrist.
America's aim at mental health is set to backfire.
Shooters can get gun licenses. They can even pass mental health evaluations. Many shooters had no prior criminal history. Almost all of them came from loving families with no violence in the home. They are smart and mentally intact. Killers are not bound by fears or phobias. They are certainly not unmotivated.
It's not mental health. It's that gun - that AR-15 rifle that nobody needs but everybody is dying to have. It shoots 45 bullets in one minute - enough to protect you, your family, and a small country in a time of war. There is no political party or stance on the right to bear arms that has anything to do with the common sense that despite any good intention or craftmanship, the AR-15 has become an American killing machine.
There is no pill, therapy, counseling, or treatment that can stop a bullet. A bullet stops when there is no gun.
Chris Lee PMHNP-BC is a psychiatric nurse practitioner at DreamCloud Psychiatry in Miami Beach, Florida. firstname.lastname@example.org