Fact check on the link between guns and mental illness
After nearly every mass shooting, such as a carousel, arguments emerge that attribute the violence to an individual’s mental illness or the prevalence of extremely lethal firearms. Ultimately, boiling it down to one, the other, or even both doesn’t get us closer to the nuance needed to understand why gun violence happens.
Linking violent gun attacks and mental illness can stigmatize people with mental disorders, despite the fact that people with mental illnesses are extremely unlikely to be the perpetrators of violence. There are several important myths to bust about this relationship and facts to clarify.
The Seattle Times reviewed scientific studies, spoke to experts, and probed state and federal gun laws to answer fundamental questions about mental health, gun violence, and what we know. factors that contribute to firearm deaths.
What do we know about the relationship between mental illness and violence?
Several research studies have found that the vast majority of people with mental disorders are not violent towards others. A person with a psychiatric disorder, such as depression, is much more likely to use a gun to harm themselves than another person. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2010 suicide accounted for 61% of gun-related deaths – and most people who died by suicide used a gun.
Some research suggests that people with serious mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, are more likely than people without a mental health diagnosis to commit a violent crime, with one study finding a 2.9% risk in people with mental illness. a diagnosed mental illness, compared to 0.8% for people without a mental illness.
But the total number of crimes committed by people with a mental health diagnosis is only a tiny fraction of total violent crimes. According to a widely cited 1990 report by the National Institute of Mental Health, people with mental illness committed only 4% of violent crimes.
The likelihood of a person committing a violent crime rises to about 10% when a person also has a substance use disorder. However, when people with mental illness engage in violent behavior, it is often for the same reasons as people without a mental health diagnosis: people may feel hopeless and have grievances related to work, school, finances or interpersonal relations.
What risk factors increase a person’s propensity for mass violence?
A few key patterns appear in the history of mass shootings in the United States. First and foremost, perpetrators tend to be male.
According to The Violence Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization, of 172 mass shooters studied, 95 percent were male. Among school or college shootings, the male shooters tend to be younger, but generally have a history of trauma, bullying, or feelings of rejection. When it comes to race and ethnicity, 52.3% of mass shooters are white, followed by 20.9% who are black and 8.1% who are Latino.
In addition to substance use, some researchers have suggested that people with mental illness may be more likely to be violent when they also grew up in poverty, were victims of crime, experienced early trauma or live in a neighborhood with a lot of crime.
What policies are in place to prevent people at risk of harming themselves or others from getting or keeping a firearm?
Washington has a handful of gun control laws intended to address concerns about gun violence and the risks individuals might pose to themselves or others.
A so-called “red flag” law allows officials to remove firearms from an individual’s possession – or prevent people from buying new guns – for one year. When the police or relatives know that a person is at risk of killing or injuring themselves or others, they can “turn in” the person by asking a Superior Court judge for a risk protection order. extremes, or ERPO. A person subject to this type of civil protection order is added to the national list of persons prohibited from sale, their weapons can be confiscated and they are required to give up concealed pistol licenses.
A second law allows people to voluntarily give up their gun rights without court intervention. This option allows people who know they may pose a risk to themselves or others, such as those who have suicidal thoughts, plans or a history of attempted suicide, to waive their right to purchase or possess firearms.
Washington restricts possession and access to firearms by other means. The following groups are not permitted to own a firearm: children and adolescents under the age of 18, persons convicted of crimes, anyone arrested or convicted of a crime of domestic violence, persons subject to domestic violence protection orders and anyone ordered by the court to undergo involuntary mental health treatment for 14 days. Federal law also restricts possession and possession of firearms, including among people who have been found by a court to be mentally ill or committed to a mental health facility.
Is it common for people with mental disorders to end up without proper care?
About 22% of adults in Washington have a mental illness, according to the national nonprofit Mental Health America’s 2021 report, making the state sixth highest for the prevalence of mental illness. Yet nearly one in four adults in Washington with mental illness say they have not been able to seek treatment, often due to a lack of insurance or adequate coverage, a lack of providers and Stigma.
Public support is high for increasing access to mental health services, but funding is lagging at the federal and state levels – and other barriers, such as a labor shortage, prevent people from receiving intensive care.
In Washington, several bills aimed at addressing mental health workforce shortages failed to pass in the 2022 session. Governor Jay Inslee, who has declared a youth mental health crisis in 2021 approved a budget that grants a marginal increase in the amount of money community behavioral health agencies can recover when serving clients on Medicaid. He also signed $10 million in funding for the construction of a 16-bed crisis stabilization center. This summer, a 988 hotline will go live across the state to provide support for people in mental health crisis.
How does the United States compare to other developed countries when it comes to the prevalence of mental illness?
According to a 2017 study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, when it comes to mental illness or addiction, the United States is on par with countries like Spain, Greenland and Australia. The study found that Canada and the UK had lower rates of mental illness among their populations.
A 2020 brief from the Commonwealth Fund, a private research foundation, however found that US residents had higher rates of mental illness, could not afford to get help and were less likely to have a mental health professional in their primary care team than other high-income countries.
Countries differ on gun policy, with others imposing stricter gun laws: in the weeks following the 2019 Christchurch mosque shooting in New Zealand, for example, Parliament banned semi-automatic weapons. Over the next six months, law enforcement bought back more than 56,000 weapons.
Similarly, Australia and Canada have tightened gun regulations. This week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau introduced legislation to freeze the number of handguns in the country and limit magazine capacity. In countries with mandatory background checks, safe storage laws and other gun regulations, research shows there are fewer mass shootings and higher levels of gun violence. weak.
What do we know about the psychological toll of gun violence?
A recent study by the American Psychological Association found that mass shootings topped a list of possible stressors, with 62% of adults overall – and three-quarters of those in Gen Z – stating that they are significantly stressed when mass shootings make headlines. .
This collective sense of stress and insecurity around gun violence is confirmed by decades of research. Gun violence can have widespread and severe mental health effects on victims and their families, on those who live in neighborhoods where they are often exposed to such violence, and on those who consume news or other media when shootings occur.
Children who witness such violence, for example, may experience anger or post-traumatic stress disorder, become withdrawn and become insensitive. Mass shootings also impact community members who have not experienced it and can harm the well-being of entire communities. A 2020 study found that mass shootings significantly reduced the likelihood of a community having “excellent well-being” and community health effects were longer and more severe when the number of casualties was high. .