Wellness·6 min read

Why We Need to Stop Blaming Mass Shootings on Mental Illness

A memorial for the Michigan State University shooting
February 8, 2023

Mass shootings leave communities in mourning and people across the country wondering why someone would commit such horrific acts. The answer most commonly given: mental illness. But the reality is more complicated than that, and a focus on “diagnosing the killer” can lead to continued fear and stigma around mental health issues.

OK, so what's the truth?

Only about 5% of mass shootings are connected to severe mental illness, like schizophrenia. About 25% are related to non-psychotic mental health issues like depression and about 23% to substance abuse. In most cases, these conditions are incidental, the researchers said, because other factors like a history of legal problems, challenges coping with severe and acute life stressors, and a combination of nihilism, emptiness, and anger are more likely to contribute to and predict gun violence. 

That falls in line with other studies from the FBI and Secret Service that found active shooters had a history of violence or threats and had experienced personal grievances or life crises, including marital problems, financial strain, and job-related conflicts — some of which the alleged gunman at Michigan State University faced. “Most people in some way confront similar issues on a regular basis in their daily lives … and possess adequate resources, psychological resiliency, and coping skills to successfully navigate such challenges without resorting to violence,” the FBI said.

What's the solution?

Reforming gun laws is likely one big piece of the puzzle, since US states with more relaxed gun control laws have higher rates of mass shootings, according to one analysis. But laws banning people with mental illness from obtaining guns may not be enough, considering many mass shooters with suspected psychiatric illnesses aren’t diagnosed. Red flag laws, which allow judges to order that guns be taken away from those who might be a danger to others or themselves, may also help.

Another priority: funding a better public mental health system. Between the financial barriers, lack of in-network mental health care providers, and stigmatization of mental health, there are many obstacles to mental health care. Our current system has also struggled to handle suicide hotline calls — a big deal considering many mass shootings double as suicides. Improving mental health care could help some people experiencing life crises get the help they need — before their problems become unbearable and they resort to violence.  


The public and politicians tend to hone in on a shooting suspect’s “mental illness” after a mass shooting, but the causes of gun violence are much more complicated. Understanding this, and approaching prevention and policy more holistically, might help us move closer to fixing our country’s unique problem.

And Also...This

What may not always be an incurable infection…

HIV. A German man has become one of only a few patients to be completely free of the virus. The leukemia and HIV patient received a bone marrow transplant to treat his cancer by replacing his stem cells with cancer-free, HIV-resistant versions. Researchers said there’s now “strong evidence” that the patient, who received the transplant in 2013, has been cured. While a majority of the millions of people with HIV are not candidates for this complex and risky treatment, experts say incidents like this may pave the way for future advances

What needs a better solution… 

Period cramps. Existing treatments like Midol don’t work for about 20% of women who experience painful menses. But limited research and funding into the issue holds us back from finding better treatments. Meanwhile, lawmakers in Spain recently said ‘we get it’ by giving women the right to take up to five days of paid menstrual leave per month.

What has more to learn… 

Stroke prediction algorithms. In a recent study, researchers compared models doctors have used for years to assess a patient’s risk of stroke and guide treatment to two AI models they’d developed. Their algorithms weren’t much better than the existing versions, and all of them were worse at predicting stroke in Black patients — who face a higher risk of the condition — potentially because they don’t account for social determinants of health.

Why egg freezing is all over your feed… 

Because clinics are partnering with influencers, offering discounts in return for content and potentially destigmatizing the complicated process. Egg-cellent.

Well, Actually

Photo of table with bowl of salad with cheese in the middle

We’re here to fact-check health trends, wellness assumptions, and myths. Such as:

Does syncing specific eating habits to your menstrual cycle help balance hormonal fluctuations?

Well, actually, it could help if you find foods that work for you.

If you didn’t learn much in school about how estrogen and progesterone fluctuate throughout your cycle (same), we get why you might take advice from TikTok on how to manage all the ups and downs. Certain foods can make you feel good or bad when you’re on your period. But that doesn’t mean you should act on hyper-specific advice to eat special foods on exact numbered days of your cycle, “because every single person is different,” said registered dietitian Anita Mirchandani

For example, a recommendation might be to eat cruciferous vegetables during the follicular phase, Mirchandani said. But that’s not the best advice for someone with IBS, who may experience a lot of bloating and gas. “You have to also understand what else is happening in your body that’s irrespective of the hormonal imbalances that happen during the monthly cycle,” she said. 

One way to do that is by “putting in the work,” she said. Keep a food journal of what you’re eating, when, and how it makes you feel.That info might help you — and maybe a dietitian — notice trends, make positive changes, and identify potential hormonal concerns.

This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It does not constitute a medical opinion, medical advice, or diagnosis or treatment of any particular condition. 

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