Faulty assumptions linking mental illness to violence is the wrong approach

Sadly, what has become an all-too-familiar heartbreaking tragedy has occurred yet again: another mass shooting. As the details unfold hour-by-hour in the small Texas town of Sutherland Springs and throughout the country, a prejudicial narrative has once again made its way into the conversation before all the facts are revealed: that mental illness was involved.

Immediately after the shooting, we heard President Trump, and others, offer the statement that the Texas shooting was, “a mental health problem.” When shocking mass tragedies occur, public officials and others frequently rush to speculation about the mental health of the shooter and how mental illness must be to blame. After all, how could someone who is emotionally stable do something so terrible?

A review of recent mass tragedies reveals that while mental illness was a factor in some, these types of random acts of violence occur relatively infrequently and a number of them in recent years have not involved mental illness. When we take a step back even further and look at gun homicides as a whole, most do not involve mental illness. In fact, studies show that mental illness contributes to only about 4 percent of all violence, and the contribution to gun violence is even lower.

Faulty assumptions linking mental illness to violence do not advance the conversation and do not help us find honest, real solutions to preventing these tragedies from happening. In fact, drawing premature conclusions about mental illness can have dangerous and harmful effects that extend beyond reinforcing historical societal prejudices.

These conversations increase the negative stereotypes about mental illness and deter people who need mental health treatment from seeking help because they fear that doing so will have a negative impact on their lives — in their jobs, and with their housing and social relationships. By overstating the risk between gun violence and mental illness, we are creating barriers to treatment.

- The Hill