Why do we blame violent crimes on mental health?


Gunman Stephen Paddock killed 58 people and injured 546 in Las Vegas after the Route 91 Music Festival and contained over 20 firearms in his hotel room at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino on Oct. 1, according to CBS News.

Nearly six weeks later, 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley murdered 26 people at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. President Donald Trump commented that the shooting was "a mental health problem at the highest level.”

Why is mental illness continually used to justify violent crimes, especially mass shootings?

Using mental health as a scapegoat for murder depicts the offenders in a false light, perpetuates the idea that the mentally ill are dangerous or violent, and neglects the even larger correlation between domestic violence and mass shootings.

The American Psychological Association (APA) stated that only 7.5 percent of crimes committed were from those diagnosed with severe mental illnesses.

Carmela M. Epright, Ph.D, a clinical professor of Neuropsychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, discussed in a TED Talk why mass shooters are not mentally ill.

“To assume that they are all mentally ill stigmatizes genuinely mentally ill people… most mass shooters do not meet the standard for criminal insanity, nor particular diagnostic criteria for mental illness. Those who suffer mental illnesses are more likely to be victims, not perpetrators,” stated Epright.

Texas state cemetary
Photo credit: CCarlstead via Flickr

Interestingly enough, people with severe mental illnesses are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than members of the general population, according to the US Department of Health & Human Services.  

Epright also touched on the fact that the mentally ill community are not properly cared for in a medical sense. Many are homeless and are generally shunned by the rest of society based on fear.

Florida A&M University library employee, Erik Rivers, claimed that there is no reason to be afraid of people who have mental health problems.

“My cousin has Down syndrome and I’m not afraid of my cousin. He is the type of person who is very independent.  He has a job, he puts on his own clothes, and can eat on his own.”

In today’s society, many find it difficult to distance themselves from the idea of mass shootings being perpetrated by those who are allegedly mentally ill. The reality is there is stronger relationship between domestic violence and mass shootings that is nothing short of scary.

A study conducted by Every Town for Gun Safety showed that over half of these shootings were related to “domestic violence or family violence. In at least 54 percent of mass shootings, the perpetrator shot a current or former intimate partner or family member.”

"This all points to a disturbing fact: there is a very real connection between past domestic violence and a propensity to future violence, including mass shootings,” according to WBUR, Boston’s NPR affiliate.

The recent shooting in California stemmed from an act of domestic violence.

On Nov. 14, Kevin Janson Neal, shot and killed his wife before going on a rampage, killing two of his neighbors and shooting an elementary school located in Rancho Tehama, Calif. In total, Neal killed five people and injured 10.

It should be widely known that those with mental health problems do not have a predisposition for violence or murder. Mentally ill people are generally no more dangerous than any other member of society.