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Trump Blames Mental Illness for Weekend Shootings

Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

Over the weekend, two mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, left 29 people dead. Following public outcry for gun reform, President Donald Trump blamed social media, violent video games and mental illness for the shootings.

In a briefing on Monday, Trump condemned the shootings, white nationalism and racism while calling for reforms in a number of areas to reduce the incidents of mass violence in the U.S.

“Our nation is overcome with shock, horror and sorrow. We are outraged and sickened by this monstrous evil,” Trump said. “In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy. These sinister ideologies must be defeated. Hatred has no place in America.”

Trump did not call for stricter gun laws or gun law reform, and instead highlighted the need for better oversight on social media and reducing the glorification of violence through video games. However, among the policy changes Trump advocated for in his remarks, he pointed the finger at mental illness as another major cause of mass violence. Trump stated:

We must reform our mental health laws to better identify mentally disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence, and make sure that those people not only get treatment but, when necessary, involuntary confinement. Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.

After a mass shooting, it’s common for everyone from politicians to the news to people on social media to point the finger at mental illness as a cause of gun violence. A 2013 Gallup poll found 48% of Americans blamed mental illness “a great deal” for mass shootings. Statistics show, however, mental illness is rarely the cause of mass violence.

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, people with a mental illness are rarely violent. Only 3–5% of those with a serious mental illness may be involved in a violent act. People with a mental illness are 10 times more likely to be the victim of a crime compared to the general population. Another study found less than 5% of all violence in the U.S. can be attributed to mental illness.

Research shows when mental illness may factor into violence, it’s almost never a direct connection. It’s one of a variety of risk factors, including past violence, a history of being in the criminal justice system, substance use and a recent stressor like unemployment. However, not a single one of these factors alone was able to predict violence, and the likelihood of someone with a mental illness committing violence is still low. In an investigation of mass shooters, the FBI found that 25% had a diagnosed mental illness — about the same rate as the general public. Approximately one in five Americans experience mental illness each year.

To drive home the point that mental illness and violence are rarely related — and point out how stigmatizing it is to repeat that claim — people took to social media to share why calling for mental health reform won’t solve America’s mass shooting crisis.

Trump’s call for additional mental health services is misdirected when it comes to mass shootings. Research shows limiting access to guns for people with mental illness will lower the suicide rate, a much higher risk for people with a diagnosed mental health condition than being violent toward others.

“While mental illness typically does not cause violence, acts of violence do typically cause mental illness,” Mental Health America wrote in a position statement, adding:

Gun violence and the reaction to it threaten our national health and well-being, stigmatize people recovering from mental illnesses, and retraumatize individuals, families, and communities that have been victims of gun violence. … It is essential to remind the public and policy makers as each event of mass violence galvanizes their attention that mental health conditions are largely unrelated to increased risk of violent behavior. It is equally essential to remind them of the trauma that results from acts of violence.

If this news is hard for you, know you’re not alone. If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

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