Focusing on mental illness won’t solve gun violence: Vanderbilt expert

Nov. 8, 2018 – Mass shootings are unpredictable, but focusing on mental health is not going to solve the problem, says Jonathan Metzl, a Vanderbilt psychiatrist, sociologist and director of the Center for Medicine, Health and Society. His research, “Mental Illness, Mass Shootings and the Politics of American Firearms,” published in the American Journal of Public Health, analyzed data and literature linking guns and mental illness over the past 40 years.

Metzl explained his position in detail last year in Politico: I’m a Psychiatrist. Making Gun Violence About Mental Health Is a Crazy Idea. He says that while some shooters are undeniably in psychiatric distress, it’s impossible for psychiatrists to predict which patient might turn to violence.

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Metzl says focusing on mental health also obscures the fact that mental illness is actually a terrible predictor of violence. His findings show that a mentally ill person is actually much less likely to shoot someone else than a sane person is. Metzl says that better predictors are:

  • Drug and alcohol use
  • A history of violence
  • Personal relationship stress
  • Access to firearms

Metzl says it’s also important to remember that people are much more likely to be the victim of gun violence by someone who is close to them than to be killed in a mass event.

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