Print This Post

Violence and mental health linked?

Posted on 02.06.2013

In light of the recent speculation on the mental state of the Sandy Hook Elementary School and Colorado movie theater shooters, many people are wondering whether a link exists between mental illness and gun violence. The Sandy Hook shooter, Adam Lanza, was suspected of having autism, and James Holmes, the Aurora, Colo. movie theater shooter, has claimed innocence by reason of mental illness.

According to a fact sheet on the University of Washington’s School of Social Work website (, although some studies show that there is a link between mental illness and gun violence, the magnitude of the relationship is not nearly as large as it is in the minds of the general population.

Patrick Smith, a Psychologist and CEO of Renascent Addiction Treatment Center

in Toronto, Canada, said that people who suffer from mental illnesses are no more prone to gun violence than any other individuals. In fact, he said that those who suffer from autism would be less likely to commit such crimes.

According to the Mayo Clinic, autism is not a mental disorder, but a developmental disorder that affects social and communication skills.

Assistant Professor of Psychological Sciences Jacqueline Hess said that there is no proven link between violent behavior and autism.

“To connect gun violence to autism is a really tragic mistake because we really have no evidence that this is true,” Hess said. “Can we find mental illness in people who use guns? Of course, but that’s going to be true of any group we talk about.”

Smith said that the issue is not mental illness, but an issue of Americans having the easiest civilian access to deadly weaponry.

“Of course there should be limitations for the mentally ill, but there should be

limitations for everyone,” Smith said. “This is an issue of having an educated public.


People don’t seem to understand that without access to guns, there would be no gun


deaths, and it’s not an easy fix.”


Hess said that all Americans on both sides of the gun debate should be educated about guns and their potential for violence in the wrong hands.

“We have to understand how dangerous guns can be and not just in the hands of the mentally ill,” Hess said. “We need some legislation and a ton of education. We need to be more informed on both sides of the issue, and it’s our responsibility to understand how powerful guns can be.”

Like Hess, the American Psychology Association also believes that education about mental illness is important. Following the Sandy Hook shooting, the APA released a statement outlining that the organization would be setting up a special team to address the prediction and prevention of violence. The group will focus not only on this issue but also on other underlying issues that play a role in potential mass violence, such as inadequacy of the mental health care system and mental heath stigmas.

Smith said that gun violence is not about mental illness at all, but about an enraged individual with easy access to guns.

“Gun violence and gun deaths mostly have to do with people experiencing one unstable moment of rage in which they do something that they can never take back,”

Smith said. “Without access to guns, the urge someone has in that moment of rage will




RSS Feed  Follow Us on Twitter  Facebook Profile