Orlando massacre: Is it right to link gun violence to mental health?

Orlando massacre: Is it right to link gun violence to mental health?

The recent gay nightclub carnage in Orlando by an American citizen of Afghan descent, Omar Mir Seddique Mateen, brought back haunting memories of past incidents involving terror attacks that reveal the commonality of gun violence in America. The incident claimed 49 lives and left 53 others injured.

Such incidents shed light on the problem of gun violence in the country and raise questions on the overall mental health of these attackers. Mateen’s ex-wife described him “as emotionally unstable who frequently manifested symptoms of bipolar disorder.” The Orlando shooter who swore his allegiance to ISIS, prior to the incident, was described as mentally unstable who hated the homosexual community.

Not all violent acts are committed by mentally ill people

While the media was busy linking the mass shooting incident to possible traces of mental illness in Mateen, researchers and scientists have been saying that people need to refrain from linking every act of violence to mental illness.

In a recent study, titled “Trends In News Media Coverage Of Mental Illness In The United States: 1995–2014,” researchers said that though mental illness affects millions of people in America, the act of linking mass shootings with mental illness needs to be replaced with more information on mental illness treatment.

In the study, published online in the journal Health Affairs in June 2016, the researchers looked at ProQuest and LexisNexis news archives published between 1995 and 2014 for news on mental illnesses and related disorders. The stories selected at random revealed the emphasis given to psychiatric disorders. The scientists also found that of the news stories published during the past two decades, 55 percent stories involving violence were described in context with mental illness, while only 14 percent talked about effective recovery from psychological disorders.

The authors of the study wrote, “Nearly three-quarters depicted a specific violent event committed by a person with or purported to have a mental illness. The most frequent type of events depicted were gun violence events.” The data accessed by the scientists revealed that an estimated 3 to 5 percent of the violent acts could be attributed to mental illness.

Emphasizing on the need for proper policies concerning treatment of mentally ill, lead author of the study Emma McGinty, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told the Huffington Post, “We have good research evidence that news media portrayals like this do create a stigma toward individuals with mental illness. But in reality, most violence is not caused by people with mental illness.”

Easy access to gun contributes to violent crimes

The Orlando shooting has also been attributed to easy availability of guns, especially in Florida where background check is not done prior to the sale of guns.

Another recent study attempted to understand how the easy accessibility of arms to mentally ill people can cause a serious impact on crimes involving violence to others and to oneself. For the study, published online in the journal Health Affairs in June 2016, researchers from the Duke University School of Medicine studied statistics of gun use, crimes involving gun use and rates of suicide in more than 81,000 people primarily detected with any kind of mental illness in Florida’s Miami-Dade and Pinellas counties during 2002-2012.

Among the people who had committed suicide using guns, nearly 72 percent had legal rights to purchase guns at the time of their deaths, whereas the rest 28 percent though had no ways to access arms, used a gun to end their own lives.

In the study, titled “Gun Violence, Mental Illness, And Laws That Prohibit Gun Possession: Evidence From Two Florida Counties,” the scientists studied the gun rights of those suffering from mental illnesses and gauged the extent to which crimes and suicide cases involving guns could have been reduced by exercising limited access to guns.

Lead author of the study Dr. Jeffrey W. Swanson, professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke said, “There is a lot of focus on people with mental illness in the discussion of gun violence prevention, and that’s both wrong and right. Our federal gun regulations pertaining to mental illness prohibit lots of people from accessing firearms who are not violent, and never will be. At the same time, they fail to identify some people who will be violent or suicidal. With these data, we can improve criteria for restrictions that might actually reduce gun violence, but also carefully balance risk and rights.”

Identifying the mentally ill

Though there are laws in the U.S. that prohibit the sale of guns to mentally ill people, lack of commitment in scrutinizing the mental health of people while handing over the arms still remains an issue. Also, linking every act of mass violence to mental illness leads to increased misconceptions about mental illness and only adds to the stigma.

If you or your loved one is suffering from any mental disorder, it is imperative to seek certified medical help. At the Sovereign Mental Health Services, our professionals offer various mental health treatment. You may call at our 24/7 helpline number (866) 954-0529 for further information about various mental illnesses and their treatments available at our centers.

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