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How prevalent is mental illness in mass shootings?


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Over the last few weeks, we have written a series of stories on mass school shootings trying to understand the how and the why.  While there is never a reason or any excuse for the taking of innocent lives, research shows there is a clear link between mental illness and mass shootings.

According to recent research from the L.A. Times, at least 59% of the 185 public mass shootings that took place in the United States from 1900 through 2017 were carried out by people who had either been diagnosed with a mental disorder or demonstrated signs of serious mental illness prior to the attack. (A mass public shooting is defined as any incident in which four or more victims are killed with a gun within a 24-hour period at a public location in the absence of military conflict, collective violence or other criminal activity, such as robberies, drug deals or gang turf wars.)

Paranoid schizophrenia is the more common of mental diseases among mass shooters according to criminologist Grant Duwe. Many of these individuals tend to feel like large groups of people are out to get them and that they are responsible for making their lives miserable. They are also loners and don’t really have any close friendships or social relationships. 

The more difficult part to comprehend is most of these people showed previous signs of troubling behavior or red flags in 42% of cases analyzed by Everytown for Gun Safety between the years of 2009 through 2016.  If these individuals go undiagnosed there lies problem one.  If they are diagnosed and then do not continue on a treatment plan by their doctor; problem two.  If they mix alcohol with specific medications then that is a whole other problem.  We must also keep in mind that not all people with mental disorders are violent.

Even with all of the research that is out, there is still a lot we don’t understand about mass shootings.  Many will argue it’s a gun problem, others will say it is a mental illness problem. Either way, we won’t make any progress until those on each side find a common ground.  If You See It, Say It.

Sources:  L.A. Times, Grant Duwe, Everytown for Gun Safety

*A school counselor is a good source to seek out if you need someone to talk to.


Toni McDowra
Toni McDowra graduated from Texas A&M Commerce with a Bachelor in Business & Marketing. She started her career right here in Paris, TX selling media advertising for KBUS radio.