Mass Shootings are About More than Mental Health

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Nkechi Ikem
Staff Writer

On Sunday, Nov. 5, Devin P. Kelley walked into First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas and fired at church attendees. The shooting lasted about seven minutes.

One New York Times article called the tragedy “the worst mass shooting in Texas history.” Twenty-six people died, and twenty others were wounded as a result.

In response, President Donald Trump said the shooting was not “a guns situation” but instead “a mental health problem at the highest level.” Continuing, President Trump called the shooting a “very, very sad event.”

Blaming mass shootings on an entire community suffering from mental illnesses is a gross tactic to deflect from discussing gun culture in the United States. Given that little to no attempts have been made to actually address mental health in the United States, President Trump is clearly insincere.

It’s hard to believe that President Trump is being honest when he calls the issue a “mental health problem.” If he and other Republicans who cry “mental illness” after each mass shooting truly believe what they are saying, we would at least see genuine attempts to pass an expansion of mental health services.

Instead, we see Republicans eroding the Affordable Care Act, the closest thing we have to a universal healthcare bill and refusing to come up with good legislation to replace it.

Instead, in an effort to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, Trump signed an executive order to end subsidies to health insurance companies. On Twitter, Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen wrote “cutting health care subsidies will mean more uninsured in my district.”

More uninsured means less people are able to get the mental health care access they need.

Mental illness is not exclusive to the United States. Nor is there strong evidence that the majority of mass shooters are committing these violent acts due to their mental disorders.

Yet, following mass shootings, many politicians act like it’s the only possible explanation.

Following the Las Vegas shooting that occurred on Oct. 1, the deadliest mass shooting in United States history, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said “one of the things we’ve learned from these shooting is often underneath this is a diagnosis of mental illness.”

However, several reputable sources have disputed any connection between mass shootings and mental health.

Bethany Lily of the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law said “there is no real connection between an individual with a mental health diagnosis and mass shootings, in an interview with NPR. The connection, according to experts, “does not exist.”

In the same interview, Daniel Webster, Director of John Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research said, “having all of our attention focused on mental illness is not particularly helpful.”

Jonathan Metzl, Director of Vanderbilt’s Center for Medicine, Health, and Society, wrote in an article that “very little evidence supports the notion that mental illness in and of itself causes assaults on other people, let alone gun crimes or mass shootings.” 

Metzl’s article is titled, “I’m a Psychiatrist. Making Gun Violence About Mental Health Is a Crazy Idea” for Politico. Furthermore, he wrote, mental illness causes patients to “withdraw from society, rather than violently attack it.”

For The Atlantic, reporter Olga Khazan wrote “the sorts of individuals who commit mass murder often are either not mentally ill or do not recognize themselves as such.”

A New York Times article presented data implying that mental health could not be the explanation behind mass shootings given that other countries are also overburdened with mental health problems.

Instead, The New York Times article found that “the only variable that can explain the high rate of mass shootings in America is its astronomical number of guns.”

I don’t deny that some mass shooters have been mentally ill. Devin Kelley, the gunman responsible for the recent Texas tragedy, has a history of mental illness. However, I question the blame on his mental health status, without looking at other factors.

Could it be that the hatred of women was a warning sign of Kelley’s ability to commit a mass murder? Kelley also had a history of beating his wife and abusing other women, according to The New York Times.

What makes it possible for a person to kill 26 people in seven minutes? The answer might be access to semi-automatic guns, given that these are the most frequently used weapon by mass shooters as found in both the study by the Washington Post and another by Mother Jones.

Blaming mental health seems like an easy way to distance the propensity for violence from larger society. Perhaps it’s time we admit mass shootings are not an issue we can relegate to mentally ill people, an already over-stigmatized community.

I am also not saying the solution is to take all guns away. However, Americans needs to come to terms with the overwhelming evidence that the connection between mental health and mass shootings is almost nonexistent. Therefore, the connection is somewhere else.

I want mental health to be discussed but not in this way. Until President Donald Trump and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan actually show efforts to make mental health services widely available, there’s no reason to believe they are sincere when they inevitably blame the next mass shooting on mental illness.