Dear America, Please Stop Blaming Mass Shootings on Mental Illness

As a citizen of the U.K. and the world, I feel it’s time to speak up about the constant demonization of the mentally ill after every American mass shooting. In the wake of yet another heartbreaking tragedy in Parkland, Florida, I have been watching the news and have been deeply disturbed (yet again) by the rhetoric that has followed. Whenever a mass shooting takes place in the U.S., you can almost always guarantee one thing: officials will talk about nothing other than how the perpetrator was psychologically disturbed.

This is upsetting because fundamentally what is being said is that those of us with psychiatric disorders are a menace and a danger to society. It’s unfair and it has to stop.

A brief examination of the scientific literature highlights how unfair this is. Statistically, individuals with mental health disorders are far more likely to be a danger to themselves than others. This isn’t to say that mentally ill people can’t commit crimes. As with any demographic, there are individuals who pose a risk. Also, I do agree that care needs to be taken when it comes to access to weaponry for people who struggle with psychiatric disorders (although I refer mostly to the danger to self more than the danger to others).

The theme we often get sold after every mass shooting is one that paints a picture of a deeply disturbed individual, who was always destined to commit such heinous acts because of their psychological condition. Blaming mental illness misses one key point: Mentally ill people are not the only people who commit crimes. Even the most stable individual can have a moment of weakness and act in an unacceptable and horrific manner. Sadly, this never gets talked about, because if stable, neurotypical individuals can commit horrific gun crimes, then we have to have a serious conversation about gun control, something which the current government in America seems to avoid like the plague.

So those of us struggling with mental illness once again take the blame for another horrific tragedy. It isn’t right. No other vulnerable group gets blamed for mass shootings — why then do we? Because the modern world had spent the best part of a century painting most of us as monsters who are incapable of integrating into society in a meaningful way, making us easy targets for an institution that wants nothing more than to ignore the real issue of gun control.

I want to finish by saying that I don’t consider myself a liberal, in fact, I don’t agree entirely with the left or the right wing of politics. What I believe in is evidence based policy, and until the world starts basing laws on the available evidence, vulnerable people will continue to struggle.

Too many people have died, and it’s time to stop blaming easy targets. America, please get your house in order.

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