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Congress & Policymakers: Stop Scapegoating Mental Illness in Mass Shootings

Congress & Policymakers: Stop Scapegoating Mental Illness in Mass ShootingsIt’s time that the United States Congress and national policymakers stop scapegoating mental illness for mass shootings in America. It’s a simplistic — but entirely wrong — answer to mass shootings and gun violence in the United States. And it’s also time that we hold our representatives in Congress accountable to have them stop shamelessly using another violent shooting to push their own agenda — and blaming mental illness as the cause.

Mass shootings are generally not committed by people with a mental illness. People who commit violent acts with a gun are far more likely to have no history of mental illness. This includes the nearly-daily mass shootings we’ve experienced in the past three years.

It’s time to have a serious, nuanced conversation about this issue — and stop the simplistic fear-mongering that politicians and policymakers with their own agendas to push seem to revel in.

Rep. Tim Murphy — who’s trying to push a Big Brother government, forced-treatment bill down Americans’ throats — wasted no time taking to the airwaves to lament the recent Oregon shooting. And, of course, shameless promoting his own terrible bill in the process (his second try at this attempt to discriminate against those with a mental illness by forcing them into outpatient treatment against their will).

But what Murphy and others who are quick to recite the same-old, same-old “we need to fix the mental health care system in America” are missing is that gun violence in the United States is not a mental illness issue. A thorough reading of the research literature tells us as much (and one would hope Congress people actually have staff who can parse research before introducing bills meant to impact behavior change in folks).

I’m not the only one who believes this. Researchers who’ve spent the better part of their career looking into the issue also come to the same conclusion, as this interview confirms:

Jonathan Metzl, a professor of psychiatry, sociology, and medicine, health, and society at Vanderbilt University, argues that mental illness is often a scapegoat that lets policymakers and the public ignore bigger, more complicated contributors to gun violence.

Metzl, who reviewed the research on mass shootings and mental illness in a paper for the American Journal of Public Health, points to studies that show people with mental illness are more likely to be victims — not perpetrators — of violence, and that very few violent acts — about 3 to 5 percent — are carried out by the mentally ill.

And while mental illness can be a contributor to some violent behaviors, other factors — such as substance abuse, poverty, history of violence, and access to guns — are much stronger predictors of violence and shootings.

According to the Congressional Research Service (PDF), the prevalence rate of mental illness in the U.S. in any given year is 18.5 percent. If only 3 to 5 percent are carrying out violent acts, that means a person with mental illness is one-third less likely to be a perpetrator of violence!

Further research indicates that people with a mental illness are far more likely to be victims of violence against them — by people without a mental illness — than perpetrators.

We need to stop pointing fingers and scapegoating the percentage of the population with mental illness. That kind of behavior is pure discrimination and bigotry. I expect policymakers and Congress people to respect all of their fellow citizens, including those with a mental illness — not call them out for special, discriminatory treatment.

People with mental illness are not some group of “crazies” who are strangers. They are our brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers. They are our lovers, co-workers, friends, sons and daughters. To believe one’s life is not going to be touched by knowing someone who has a mental illness — or to experience it oneself — is to live in denial. With mental illness so prevalent, we all know someone with it.

So let’s start treating folks with mental illness as ordinary people who have a condition that needs treatment. That’s it.

Let’s put the prejudiced, old-fashioned — and completely wrong — beliefs that people with mental illness are somehow an important piece of the puzzle of violence in America to bed. The research and science do not support this view. Anyone who claims otherwise is either ignorant or simply pushing their own biased, political agenda.



For further information Everyone blames mental illness for mass shootings. But what if that’s wrong?

Vanderbilt University: Mental Illness is the wrong scapegoat after mass shootings

Congress & Policymakers: Stop Scapegoating Mental Illness in Mass Shootings

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Congress & Policymakers: Stop Scapegoating Mental Illness in Mass Shootings. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 5 Oct 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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