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Delusional Thinking 101: How Blaming Mental Illness Won’t Help Stop Mass Shootings

Delusional Thinking 101: How Blaming Mental Illness Won't Help Stop Mass ShootingsWe’ve written in the past how there’s is a real delusional disconnect between the desire to act to stop future mass shootings, and people constantly pointing the finger at mental illness as being the root of the problem.

I say “delusional” because the leap of logic it takes to utter statements like, “mentally ill people only account for a small fraction of the gun deaths in America every year” and “the vast majority of those gun deaths are suicide, not homicide,” and then to blame such violence on mental illness is mind-boggling. I just cannot understand it.

Yet that’s exactly what Mel Robbins over at CNN has done. She says “don’t blame the NRA” for these shootings. I say, stop blaming people with mental illness too.

As I’ve said before, there are no easy answers to mass shootings. Mass shootings — by their very nature — are often premeditated, well-planned murders that have been in the making for weeks, if not months. The only thing that separates them from a “regular” murderer is the body count.

More laws won’t help. People with a mental illness and who want to commit violence can often readily “act normal” — and outright lie — if they believe their freedoms are going to be taken away from them. People who are prone to violence understand the system usually better than anyone else, and can therefore manipulate it for their means.1

But what gets me frustrated, angry and upset is someone saying we should blame mental illness for these acts of violence. Even when they acknowledge that people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than the perpetrators.

Mel Robbins highlights the case of Elliot Rodger as a prime example of why new laws are needed. Yet she glosses over the fact that Elliot Rodger was already being treated for his mental health concerns! I’m sorry, but if the mental health professionals who were already seeing Rodger weren’t aware of how close he was to perpetrating his acts of violence, how would a commitment law have changed anything?? Nobody thought he had any reason to be committed.

And Rodger isn’t the only person who was in treatment at the time of committing a mass shooting. Other well-known shooters were also in treatment, or had recently been in treatment. In every case, nobody saw the red warning flags that, in retrospect, look obvious.

Putting someone into a hospital for 72 hours with a professional or two who knows little about you isn’t going to help. When a person is hospitalized for an evaluation, they spend most of their time in their room, sleeping or watching TV. When a professional does see you, they see you only for a few hours — total. This kind of evaluation isn’t a magic bullet.

Apparently when reading such opinion pieces, we’re supposed to suspend our disbelief of how the real world works. We’re supposed to believe that a 72 hour evaluation in some sort of magical elixir that will “cure” society of mass shootings and the people who perpetrate them?

It will do neither.

We don’t need stronger commitment laws, allowing for family members to lodge complaints against other family members that could result in such a 72 hour — or even longer — forced hospitalization. That takes us back to the dark ages of commitment laws in the United States in the 1940s through the 1960s. During that time, a family could commit another family member for simply being a nuisance or the “black sheep.”

Treatment for mental illness needs to remain voluntary process, as it has been for the vast majority of people for the past few decades. It would be a large step backward to listen to those who want to take us back to the dark ages of psychiatry.

Just because some criminals — and have no doubts about it, people who commit mass murders are criminals first and foremost — have committed crimes that upset us, we should not upend the progress we’ve made in recognizing the rights and civil liberties of our fellow citizens. Citizens who just happen to also have a mental illness.

Furthermore, the basic Science 101 tenet — correlation does not equal causation — applies here. These shooters share a lot of other characteristics in common: mostly white, males, coming from Christian families, with families who had decent incomes — and access to firearms. Notice nobody’s looking to pass laws based upon any of these… Just that one tenuous connection to the boogeyman, “mental illness.”

New gun laws are being proposed — and passed — designed to take away your Constitutional right to own a gun. If 1 in 4 of us will suffer a mental illness in our lifetime, that’s a huge minority of Americans who will be denied this basic Constitutional right.

Mental illness is not the problem. The problem is, in part, with people like Mel Robbins who make these kinds of simplistic, illogical arguments that would do little or nothing to stop future mass shootings (since violence and mental illness are not significantly related in the vast majority of cases).

If the vast majority of people with mental illness have no increased risk of violence, why would anyone focus on them as the primary answer to this problem?

Further reading:

Tim Murphy Doesn’t Miss a Beat Turning Tragedy Into Political Opportunity

The real gun problem is mental health, not the NRA

Delusional Thinking 101: How Blaming Mental Illness Won’t Help Stop Mass Shootings


  1. Even if you put a new “system” in place designed to try and frustrate such people’s intentions, it’s probably going to be more like a sieve than a safe. Numerous people will still get through. []

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). Delusional Thinking 101: How Blaming Mental Illness Won’t Help Stop Mass Shootings. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 26 Jun 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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