Mental Health & Mass Shootings

Mental Health & Mass Shootings

Is There a Link? Here are the Facts and the Myths.

While studies have shown links between mental health disorders, substance abuse problems, and other serious concerns, each circumstance is different. All too often, the signs on the path to a mass shooting are unclear, and even the most intuitive and empathetic communities feel powerless to heal the underlying problems that lead to violence. In this post, we examine the scientific literature surrounding the link between mental health and mass shootings.

The Relationship Between Mental Illness and Mass Shootings

A quantitative, cross-sectional study focusing on the association between mental illness and mass shootings was published by Walden University in 2020. Researchers at the university used the archival data of the Stanford University database of mass shootings of American mass shootings from the period between 2000 to 2016. The study found that the proportion of mass shooters with mental illness (at 42.1 percent) was significantly greater than the proportion of the general population with mental illness (at only 18.9 percent).

The study also found that the individuals behind mass shootings who also have diagnosed mental illness tend to cause a much higher number of fatalities when they commit crimes, as compared to those criminals without mental illnesses. Walden’s conclusions do have a silver lining: the researchers hoped that the study would carry implications for social change. The study’s findings may be able to guide legislators to supply critical funding for further research that can identify relationships between mental illness and mass shootings, so our communities can prevent them from occurring in the future.

Lately, however, researchers across the nation have been reexamining the link between mental illness and mass shootings. Joel Dvoskin, PhD who has served on the White House Panel on the Future of African American Males, the American Bar Association Task Force on Capital Punishment and Mental Disability, and the Research Advisory Board for the United States Secret Service, was recently featured on the American Psychology Association’s “Speaking of Psychology” podcast. He is quoted saying:

While people with serious mental illness are slightly more likely to commit acts of violence than people without mental illness, the risk that it creates is pretty small compared to other known risk factors, for example, current substance abuse.”

The Role of Societal Factors in Mass Shootings

There are so many intricate factors that contribute to the circumstances that could drive an individual to commit a mass shooting. It can be hard, if not impossible, for most to understand what could cause someone to commit an act of violence. A dissertation published by Utah State University listed the following factors as important to consider as possible causes (though not in isolation) of mass violence:

  • Bullying
  • Bad peer-to-peer relationship
  • Dysfunctional family dynamics, including severe abuse in childhood
  • Cultural conflicts
  • Mental illness
  • Ease of access to guns and weapons
  • The desire to imitate or copy other mass shooting crimes
  • The media

The Impact of Easy Access to Firearms on Mass Shootings

According to a time trend analysis published in the British Medical Journal, “more relaxed gun control laws and higher rates of gun ownership have higher rates of mass shootings,” and that “levels of gun ownership were also significantly associated with mass shooting rates.” The study pinpointed the finding that a 10-unit increase in “state gun law permissiveness” was associated with an 11.5 percent higher rate of mass shootings, a statistically significant correlation. According to the researchers, the study’s findings held up to scrutiny even after accounting for other external factors. The study also found an individual impact on gun ownership with its conclusion that a 10 percent increase in gun ownership was associated with an over 35 percent steeper rate of mass shootings.

The Relationship Between Substance Abuse and Mass Shootings

Substance abuse is sometimes considered as either a behavioral issue or a form of mental illness. Illnesses and behavioral issues such as “substance use disorders, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorders 1 and 2” have been theorized to present an increased risk for violence as compared to other illnesses. In an article entitled “Debunking the Myths: Mental Illness and Mass Shootings” published in the Journal of Violence and Gender in 2019, researchers stated that “targeted violence is a goal-directed behavior,” often occurring along with other problems, such as substance abuse and other forms of mental health issues.

While there is a link between substance abuse and mass shootings, it is not definitive. If you believe someone you know may be struggling with a substance abuse and/or mental health problem, you can call the free and confidential 24-hour Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

School Safety Solution Delivers Peace of Mind When and Where it Matters Most

While none of us can undo the social and societal factors that have led an individual to substance abuse, mental illness, or a propensity for violence, there are ways to work together to protect our schools from horrific events. Training to prepare teachers, students, and staff is critical, which is why School Safety Solution endorses programs such as the Alice Method.

At School Safety Solution, our priority is making sure that school campuses across the country are as safe as they can be. Our solutions protect children and educators by providing reliable, high-quality, and life-saving equipment that protects children, teachers, and staff. To do what we can to help, we provide tactical solutions such as lockdown window shades and safety-first door locks that deploy from inside the classroom.

If you would like to review your school’s safety and security equipment, the tools available to your school’s staff, or any other security consideration, School Safety Solution is here to assist you. You can call our team of safety experts any time at 888.733.0406 or send us an email at for more information.