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Mass Shootings Not a Mental Health Issue, says Yale Psychologist

Countries that restrict access to military-style weapons have far fewer mass shootings. (Pixabay)
Countries that restrict access to military-style weapons have far fewer mass shootings. (Pixabay)
November 27, 2017

RICHMOND, Va. -- The latest mass shootings have led to calls for enhanced reporting of mental health records. But mental health experts say that would have little, if any, impact.

News coverage of the November 14 shootings at a school in Rancho Tehama, Calif., focused on the shooter's mental history. President Donald Trump called the church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, a week before "a mental health problem.”

But according to Dr. Larry Davidson, a psychology professor at Yale University Medical School, only 2 percent of gun violence is committed by people with serious mental illness.

"The vast majority of people who commit such acts are very much in touch with reality, it's just a very painful reality that they're in touch with,” Davidson said. "It's not that they've lost their grounding in reality."

Advocates in the mental health treatment community fear that statements linking mass shootings to mental health only serve to further stigmatize people with mental illness.

A 2016 report by the American Psychiatric Association suggests that focusing on behavior, coping skills and conflict resolution would be more effective. Davidson pointed out that people with serious mental illness are more in danger themselves than they are a danger to others.

"People with psychosis are much less likely to commit violence and are, in fact, much more likely to be victimized than to be perpetrators,” he said.

Davidson said studies have shown that people with mental illness are 14 times more likely to be victims of violence than the average person.

He noted that the incidence of mental illness is consistent from country to country, but there are far more mass shootings in the U.S. than any other developed nation.

"It's not that there are 40 times as many people with mental illness in the U.S. as in the U.K. It's just that there's that much more easy access, not just to guns, but to military-style guns,” Davidson said.

Following a mass shooting in 1996, Australia enacted strict gun control laws. There hasn't been a single mass shooting in that country in 21 years.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA