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Busting the Myth of the Mentally Ill Shooter
Dr. Patricia A. Farrell -- Psychologist Dr. Patricia A. Farrell -- Psychologist
Tenafly, NJ
Monday, May 30, 2022

Dr. Patricia A. Farrell


Too often, when there are violent assaults where large numbers of people are killed by a person with an assault rifle, the assumption is they must be mentally ill. Let's put that belief, or rather disbelief, to bed once and for all. Too much research has pointed to the fact that those with mental illness are not the ones perpetrating these types of violent acts.

When we encounter mass shootings, as we have recently in the murder of 19 students and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, we are always asking how this could have happened, could it have been prevented, and why it happened.

It is the "why" aspect that is most troubling for healthcare professionals since it seems, in too many cases, to be answered by, "They were mentally ill." Those of us in mental healthcare find this to be a distraction and an unneeded shame and stigma on those who suffer from mental illness. The mentally ill usually injure themselves and, possibly, family members. But they don't go out looking to kill strangers at will, nor do they arm themselves with military-style weapons to do so.

In the Bible of psychiatric diagnosis, the DSM, the symptoms of a mental disorder are carefully outlined and none of them include shooting strangers or planning an attack on a supermarket or a school or a church or synagogue, or mosque. Individuals who feel intense hatred, experience unpleasantness in their personal lives, or who have been politicized to believe that others are evil, don't necessarily deserve, according to the criteria, a diagnosis of mental illness.

There have been those who have committed heinous murders, but they have usually been of the serial, singular type and even there the question of mental illness is doubtful. Some of them did exhibit disturbing behavior prior to their murders, but they were not mentally ill.

If rage is a mental illness, then many of us will be seen as mentally ill and that is not so. Extreme emotion can be felt and exhibited but that does not mean we are mentally ill.

It is imperative that we begin to examine the question of these horrific murders of innocent individuals and not jump to some easy solution and say they are all mentally ill.

Yes, the individual who shot all of the children at the Sandy Hook school in Connecticut did have serious mental health problems that were recognized, but inadequately handled. He did not have sufficient mental health care prior to the dastardly act.

Other individuals who have perpetrated multiple murders at nightclubs and schools and theaters were not, on the whole, mentally ill. Yes, the shooter at the theater had been receiving mental health care at his university, but some things seemed to have been missed and he went on to commit multiple murders.

In fact, one study found that only 8% of mass shootings were the result of persons with serious mental disorders. We "must abandon the starting assumption that acts of mass violence are driven primarily by diagnosable psychopathology in isolated "lone wolf" individuals."

So, let's not take the easy way out instead of subjecting ourselves to a careful analysis of what led to these shootings. Don't toss them all off due to mental illness because there are too many people who are too angry and have military-style weapons at their disposal and they aren't mentally ill.

If anyone is to be given a break, it's those with validated mental disorders who deserve it. They do not deserve additional stigma for crimes they did not commit. Look for the true roots of these types of acts before you place judgment on anyone.

Website: www.drfarrell.net

Author's page: http://amzn.to/2rVYB0J

Medium page: https://medium.com/@drpatfarrell

Twitter: @drpatfarrell

Attribution of this material is appreciated.

News Media Interview Contact
Name: Dr. Patricia A. Farrell, Ph.D.
Title: Licensed Psychologist
Group: Dr. Patricia A. Farrell, Ph.D., LLC
Dateline: Tenafly, NJ United States
Cell Phone: 201-417-1827
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