Blaming Mental Illness for Mass Shootings is Harmful

June 15, 2022

When tragedy strikes, it is normal to want to understand why it happened. Being able to pinpoint the “why” can sometimes provide a degree of comfort and give us something to focus on as we work to prevent a similar tragedy from happening in the future. But this can often lead to finger pointing about who or what is to blame for tragedies.

In the aftermath of many mass shootings, including those in Buffalo and Uvalde, people are quick to point the finger at mental illness as the cause of these tragic incidents. But that is a simple answer to a complex problem.

Research has shown that individuals with severe mental illness are far more likely to be the victim of crime than they are to commit a violent act. It is wrong to assume that all active shooters have a mental illness. Millions of Americans live with a mental illness, but the vast majority do not go on to commit acts of violence.

The assertion that incidents of mass violence are the direct result of mental illness is harmful and only reinforces the stigma surrounding mental health, making it more difficult for someone to seek out treatment. There is already, on average, an 11-year delay between when someone begins experiencing symptoms of mental illness and when they begin treatment. The incorrect assumption that all would-be shooters have a mental illness creates yet another hurdle for individuals needing mental health treatment. They may be more hesitant to access treatment due to the fear of being seen as a threat by their family, friends and colleagues.

Individuals experiencing a mental illness already face enough stigma. Simplistic answers to complex issues only reinforce stigma and make it more difficult for someone to reach out for help.