Statement by Debra L. Wentz, Ph.D, President and CEO of NJAMHAA, on Weekend Mass Shootings

In the aftermath of the heartbreaking tragedies that occurred over the weekend in Dayton and El Paso, there has been a great deal of misinformation about mental health and its role in connection to violent acts in the media. After violent events, the media will often speculate on the perpetrator's mental state and make assumptions that they must have an underlying mental health condition, which led to the acts. Identifying mental illness as the primary factor leading to mass shooting events is dangerous and highly stigmatizing to individuals who do have mental health disorders. Studies have shown that mental health disorders contribute to less than five percent of all violence, and the numbers are even lower for gun violence specifically.

Predictors of violence include having a past history of violence; use of alcohol and/or illegal drugs; having a personal history of physical or sexual abuse and trauma; and a history of domestic violence. Mental illness alone does not increase an individual's risk of becoming violent. Mental illness, particularly untreated conditions involving symptoms such as psychosis, can be a contributing factor when combined with the aforementioned risk factors. Making assumptions about a shooter's mental state and publicizing false information is highly stigmatizing and can prevent individuals with mental health disorders from seeking treatment, especially when those assumptions are accompanied with calls to involuntarily commit individuals suspected of having serious mental illnesses.

Factors that are more strongly linked to violence, such as gun control measures and the presence of hate groups, should be prioritized when addressing such acts. There is certainly a need to expand access to mental health care for all Americans, but correlating mental health disorders to horrific violent acts is not the way to ensure expansion. Mental health has a very limited role in acts of domestic terrorism, and it should not be used as a scapegoat when tragedies occur.


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