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Mass Shooters = Mental Illness?

Mass Shooters = Mental Illness?In the wake of yet another mass school shooting, we mourn. We are angry. Why is this happening in our country? What is going on? And yet, as I flip on my television — what do I see? It’s certainly not anything about gun control or raising children properly, but alas, mental illness.

No one is disputing that our mental health system is a wreck. I know from firsthand experience that it is a travesty. I must admit, however, that the media’s portrayal of these shooters is uncomfortable and offensive.

The moment one of these acts of violence occurs, it is the default response from the media. It is a constant speculation for days or weeks. Hmm…was he bipolar? Depressed? Schizophrenic? It has to be something, because people who are not mentally ill don’t kill people.

That is where you are wrong. There is a difference between a teenager with a gun and hormonal rage and a mentally ill person. People don’t understand mental health; they don’t understand what it is, or what it means. What do you think is the difference between a murderer and a murderer with a mental illness? A chemical imbalance.

A chemical imbalance? Yes. It is akin to saying that school shooters are diabetic, so you have to be diabetic if you shoot up a school. See how silly that sounds?

The ability to kill is primal, and we all can do it in fits of passion or rage. Does a husband immediately become mentally ill when he kills his wife for cheating? No. He was overcome with rage (of which we are all capable), and it got the best of him. There is no sense in burying our heads and assuming he was depressed.

I often see interviews with the survivors saying that the shooters were usually very kind and well-liked and maybe a little shy. Does shy equal mental illness? I don’t think so.

The signs of depression are pretty obvious to the outside world. How would a normal, well-liked child go from happy to extreme homicidal depression with no one noticing? Maybe he wasn’t depressed. Maybe something else drove him to kill people, not a chemical imbalance in his brain.

I am well aware that some mental illnesses can cause people to become more violent. I am not disputing that. What I am angry about is this default response. When the AIDS epidemic was going on, every gay person was seen as diseased with AIDS. Now that there is an epidemic of mass shootings, every mentally ill person is seen as a potential ticking time bomb and is treated accordingly.

Being mentally ill is just like being gay or black. You are treated differently, you can be fired from your job, people don’t trust you … the list goes on. All are unfair, all are mean, and all stem from a lack of understanding.

Mental health education is not just for the mentally ill. We already know what is going on with us and how to cope. We need to have education for everyone else. The world needs to understand what mental illness is and how it affects people instead of assuming we are all potential killers and to keep your kids away from us.

To all of the families of the victims of these shooting sprees, I am so sorry for your losses. I have children of my own, and I could not imagine losing them in such a horrific manner. But, the world should not point its fingers at a group of people and say they are to blame.

I don’t know the reason for the mass shootings — I don’t think anyone does. But I do know, as a mentally ill person, I am sick of being blamed for them.

Mass Shooters = Mental Illness?

Heather Foster

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APA Reference
Foster, H. (2018). Mass Shooters = Mental Illness?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 19, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 29 Jun 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.