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Wealth & Poverty Review Mental Illness and Mass Shootings: Is There A Connection?

In asking this question, one must tread carefully. The truth is, there is a connection between untreated, serious mental illness (as distinguished from mental illness) and mass public violence. But instead of allowing that connection to instill fear, it should inspire compassion toward those suffering a serious mental illness and a sense of urgency to provide them with proper treatment.

Following is an excerpt from DJ Jaffe’s book, Insane Consequences, on the subject:

Mass murders by people with untreated serious mental illness are exceedingly rare, but seem increasingly common. James Holmes gained celebrity status when he shot and killed twelve people in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater. He was previously identified by a school psychologist as being mentally ill and potentially dangerous, but he was not required to be in treatment. Jared Loughner shot Representative Gabrielle Giffords and killed six people in Arizona in January 2011. He, too, was known to be mentally ill and potentially dangerous but was not required to be in treatment. Mentally ill John Zawahri wasn’t known to be in treatment when he killed five and wounded more in a mass shooting at Santa Monica College. The siblings of John Hinckley knew he was mentally ill and tried to have him hospitalized for mental illness, before he shot President Reagan, but were unsuccessful.

Mother Jones found 63 percent of mass shooters between 1982 and 2012 had mental illness. Getting mentally ill shooters into treatment might have saved the lives of others, and prevented them from being buried alive behind bars. According to psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey, author of nine books on serious mental illness and scores of studies, up to 10 percent of all US homicides are likely due to untreated serious mental illness. A 2008 study found that more than twenty-six thousand Americans with a mental illness were incarcerated for murder.

Violence is not associated with poor mental health, mental illness, or serious mental illness. It is clearly associated with serious mental illness that is allowed to go untreated.

DJ Jaffe, Insane Consequences, pages 32-33

Allow me to emphasize that last point: Violence is not associated with poor mental health, mental illness, or serious mental illness. It is clearly associated with serious mental illness that is allowed to go untreated.

What is the solution? One solution may be to redirect mental health funding toward serious mental illness. I’ll let Jaffe explain:

Mental “health” advocates blame the problem on lack of funding. They are wrong. The mental health advocates themselves are the problem. One hundred percent of adults feel sad at some point and can have their mental health improved. Eighteen percent had some sort of mental illness in the past year. But only four percent had a “serious” mental illness like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or severe, major depression. As documented in section seven, the mental health industry persuaded the government to ignore the four percent with a serious mental illness and invest the funds on improving the mental health of all others.

The mental health industry cherry-picks the most compliant and least symptomatic. It labels all other patients “high-needs” and claims it is not set up to help them. A psychiatric social worker admitted to me, “A rampant problem with not only the mental health system but the entire healthcare system is it discriminates against potential clients it perceives as being too difficult to handle.”

Meanwhile, everyone ignores the seriously mentally ill in plain sight. No one stands outside homeless shelters or prison doors to help those who really have serious mental illnesses stay in treatment. It’s become harder to get into Bellevue than Harvard. And if the most seriously ill can find a hospital to admit them, they will be discharged “sicker and quicker.” They wind up in jails, prisons, shelters, and nursing homes, moving from an institution that was appropriate to others that are not.

The solution is to replace mission creep with mission control. We have to stop ignoring the most seriously ill. We have to spend less on mental health and more on serious mental illness.

DJ Jaffe, Insane Consequences, pages 21-23

The correlation between untreated, serious mental illness and violence should be taken seriously and, to a healthy extent, feared. The people badly in need of treatment, on the other hand, deserve our compassion, attention, and medical care. Treatments exist. Hope exists. Instead of spending money on the mental health of the entire population, it is incumbent upon us to prioritize those in greatest need.

Caitlin Cory

Communications Coordinator, Discovery Institute
Caitlin Cory is the Communications Coordinator for Discovery Institute. She has previously written for Discovery on the topics of homelessness and mental illness, as well as on Big Tech and its impact on human freedom. Caitlin grew up in the Pacific Northwest, graduated from Liberty University in 2017 with her Bachelor's in Politics and Policy, and now lives in Maryland with her husband.