Why We Need To Stop Blaming Mental Illness For Mass Shootings

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It happened after the Las Vegas shooting, and it happened again after a gunman opened fire on a church in Texas over the weekend. All too often, we blame mental illness for mass shootings — and the American Psychological Association's president says that it needs to stop.
In a statement shared with Refinery29, Antonio E. Puente, PhD, responded to President Donald Trump's assertion that the Texas shooting was the result of a "mental health problem."
"The vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent," Dr. Puente said. "A complex combination of risk factors, including a history of domestic violence, violent misdemeanor crimes and substance use disorders, increases the likelihood of people using a firearm against themselves or others."
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Following the Texas shooting (as well as several other shootings that have preceded it), many are calling for gun control policy and reform, not just offering "thoughts and prayers" — or using mental illness as a scapegoat.
While many people indeed suffer from mental health problems, as Dr. Puente said, not every person who does is violent, and certainly not all shooters have mental illnesses (despite what many of us may believe). In fact, only 3%-5% of violent acts can be attributed to people with mental illness. Not to mention, blaming mental illness only places even more stigma on an issue that's already so riddled with shame within society.
"Gun violence is a serious public health problem that requires attention to these risk factors, as well as more research to inform the development and implementation of empirically based prevention and threat assessment strategies," Dr. Puente said.
"Calling this shooting a 'mental health problem' distracts our nation’s leaders from developing policies and legislation that would focus on preventing gun violence through a scientific, public health approach."
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