Mass Shootings ARE a Mental Health Problem

And saying so isn’t stigmatising the mentally ill or excusing violence

Part of a viral Facebook post by Rhet Richardson about mass shootings
  • genetics (certain genes influence one’s predisposition to schizophrenia, antisocial personality disorder, bipolar disorder etc although many of these genes are only activated with trauma and aren’t a given that you will get the disease if you have the gene)
  • trauma (affects everyone differently, the same trauma may trigger mental illness in some people and not others)
  • environmental toxins (for example, lead exposure has been shown to increase the incidence of certain mental illnesses)
  • drugs (many drugs both prescription and recreational can trigger mental illness such as psychosis or suicidality)
  • brain damage
  • therapy (can help certain mental illnesses but not others, depending on the type of therapy, people may avoid therapy due to shame, denial or lack of access financial and otherwise)
  • prescribed medication
  • self medication
  • exercise
  • meditation
  • addiction to distraction from the symptoms (ie gaming, social media, sex, shopping, gambling, binge eating, binge drinking, recreational drug use)
  • dissociation
  • religion/spirituality
  • community based healing (such as the 12 step program)
  • talking to friends or family
  • talking to people that can relate to your experience (online forums, which can be helpful — recovery forums — or make symptoms worse — pro-ana or incel forums)
  • talking it out
  • crying
  • self harm
  • suicide attempts
  • risky behaviours
  • destruction of property (vandalism, arson)
  • violence
  • setting healthy boundaries and seeking to feel secure in themselves without the need for external praise
  • choosing to see the good and happiness in the world, in defiance of their trauma
  • choosing love and kindness to rise above the hatred of their abusers/bullies
  • making art and creating something
  • rebelling against authority figures such as parents or teachers by rule-breaking or talking back — or against institutions such as the government by breaking the law
  • self harm
  • eating disorders
  • getting a tattoo
  • taking drugs
  • creating a fantasy life in their mind
  • pretending to be someone else online
  • lying
  • masochism (transforming pain into pleasure to overcome pain)
  • dominating people through fear
  • influencing people through people pleasing
  • manipulation
  • violence

Can you see how many permutations there are? The complexity that can arise from layers of factors at every step of a person’s mental health journey and lead to healing and ending the cycle, or disaster and inflicting trauma in another?

When we say a mass shooting is a mental health problem, (or indeed that ANY violence is a mental health problem, or someone who committed violence was mentally ill) we don’t mean that “mentally ill people are always violent” or that “violent people are all mentally ill the same way”, or that “a particular mental illness will always cause violence” or that “violent behaviour caused by mental illness is entirely outside that person’s control and isn’t also partly the choices they made in reaction to their symptoms”.

Men are not the problem. White people are not the problem. Just as women are not the problem. Minorities are not the problem.

Mass shooters tend to have similar personality profiles. They tend to not trust authority. They either didn’t have access to therapy, or they distrusted the therapist or the doctor prescribing them medication. They had a deep seated sense of shame inside which discouraged them from reaching out to family, friends or community. They were depressed or suicidal. They didn’t believe their life could get any better. They instead went to anonymous forums where they met other cynical and despairing people who believed the cause of their miserable lives was a conspiracy by a group of scapegoats. These people further made them believe that the world was horrible and nothing would ever get better. Their new community told them that the only way to get a moment of happiness and satisfaction in their miserable lives was to harm others and become famous doing so. In order to retain a sense of power, they wanted to inflict revenge on those they believed were the cause of their misery. They had access to guns. They didn’t have anyone in their lives that were close enough to them to know they were planning something like this, and stop it beforehand. Or if people did know, they didn’t take it seriously and act to stop it beforehand.

Violence is a trust problem. It’s caused by a loss of trust, and in turn breaks trust. But preventing violence, requires building trust. Starting early on, in childhood. Parents, educators and community providing a safe space for children to grow and learn in an environment where they can trust and not be afraid that others will harm them.

Preventing future mass shooters doesn’t just involve laws on assault rifles. Many of them already exist, and it doesn’t stop the violence.

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“The nature of our immortal lives is in the consequences of our words and deeds” — Cloud Atlas