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Improving Mental Health Treatment Would Affect Few Mass Killings

Although mental illness may seem like a compelling explanation for mass shootings, the facts say otherwise, writes Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox in the Dallas Morning News. Notwithstanding a few high-profile assailants whose mental health issues are well-documented, no clear relationship between psychiatric diagnosis and mass murder has been established. Only about one-in-ten mass murderers showed signs of severe mental Illness, found researchers at the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry. Mental illness is more apt to be implicated among assailants who indiscriminately target strangers in a public setting, but even then, says Florida State University criminologist Emma Fridel, as many as two-thirds have no history of being treated for psychological conditions of any kind. They may be mad, but in the sense of being angry as opposed to being crazy, Fox says


Although there are relatively few mass killers with severe psychiatric disorders, many others have struggled with social isolation, depression, or anger issues. They may be dejected (for example, over repeated job loss or financial ruin), rejected (such as “incels” who blame womankind for their lack of romantic fulfillment), or

hate-filled (as in those motivated by racism, antisemitism, or xenophobia). Some just seek out a soft target, such as a school or restaurant, to punish society for their own failures and frustration. Countless teenagers brag about violent plans, yet most never seriously harm any human being, other than perhaps themselves. Greater access to treatment options would not necessarily reach the few individuals on the fringe who might seek to turn a supermarket, school, church, or medical facility into their own personal war zone. We must resist the urge to equate mental illness with mass murder, Fox says. A far more effective way to prevent mass murder would be to keep deadly weapons away from troubled or broken individuals.


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