Content warning: May 2022 Texas School Shooting
I need to state something unequivocally. Mental illness does not cause mass shootings. Period. Paragraph. End of story.
To say anything else, to imply anything else, to draw any sort of connection between the two is ableist and massively harmful.
Mental Health is a constantly evolving, improving field. Like anything else, you can find things on the internet that will say it does cause them. I will direct you first to the date of the article. Anything pre-2018 will likely have a bad case of confirmation bias.
Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one’s prior beliefs or values.
The Massacre at Columbine in 1999 was poorly reported and based on the panicked reports of children being attacked. It affected many people in North America.
Unfortunately, that cemented some nasty (untrue) things in the public’s mind. Things like ‘outcasts get revenge’ and ‘bullied kids become mentally ill and snap’.
Neither is true. I’m not going to revisit the wheel, but likely, everything you ‘know’ about how mental illness is, of course, related to violence is at least in part, based on that attack. Here’s the debunk. https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2019/04/19/bullies-black-trench-coats-columbine-shootings-most-dangerous-myths/
Older articles from usually reliable sources will likely be severely flawed, at best. It’s easy to blame Mental Illness and to demonize mentally ill people, so that is what society has done. It’s what medicine has done. We aren’t that far, historically, from women being institutionalized for ‘hysteria’ after all.
Luckily, mental health care is improving, and bias is fading at a glacial rate. Newer studies have proven that the motivations for mass shootings do not have high correlation to most forms of what we term ‘mental illness.’
This article is 50 pages, on the surface, if you just skim it, it appears to support the idea that there’s a huge correlation between mental illness and violence. However, if you actually read it, you’ll find it’s saying the opposite. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4318286/
“surprisingly little population-level evidence supports the notion that individuals diagnosed with mental illness are more likely than anyone else to commit gun crimes. According to Appelbaum,25 less than 3% to 5% of US crimes involve people with mental illness, and the percentages of crimes that involve guns are lower than the national average for persons not diagnosed with mental illness. Databases that track gun homicides, such as the National Center for Health Statistics, similarly show that fewer than 5% of the 120 000 gun-related killings in the United States between 2001 and 2010 were perpetrated by people diagnosed with mental illness.26“
In short, people diagnosed with mental illness are much less likely than an average person to commit any sort of violence.
Perhaps some definitions are in order. When we say something as imprecise as ‘mental illness’ we’re basically tossing the entire junk drawer of human brain issues into a basket, jumbling it around, then blaming it for everything under the sun.
You can read further about the types of disorders and conditions that fall into that basket in layman’s terms here. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/mental-health-types-illness#1
I’ll detail a few that are usually the ones people have in mind when they blame mentally ill people for (insert whatever someone wants to blame us with).
Psychotic disorders: Psychotic disorders involve distorted awareness and thinking. Two of the most common symptoms of psychotic disorders are hallucinations — the experience of images or sounds that are not real, such as hearing voices — and delusions, which are false fixed beliefs that the ill person accepts as true, despite evidence to the contrary. Schizophrenia is an example of a psychotic disorder.
Personality disorders: People with personality disorders have extreme and inflexible personality traits that are distressing to the person and/or cause problems in work, school, or social relationships. In addition, the person’s patterns of thinking and behavior significantly differ from the expectations of society and are so rigid that they interfere with the person’s normal functioning. Examples include antisocial personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, schizoid personality disorder,and paranoid personality disorder.
The next part is hard for a lot of people. Unless you are a psychologically trained medical professional, you have no business, and no right to be armchair diagnosing anyone with a ‘mental illness’. Least of all a domestic terrorist.
Why? Because you’re very likely to be wrong. And that increases negative bias. It hurts people. What most people believe and think about the vast amount of mental illness is wrong. It’s based on ‘facts’ like ‘what the press reported’ and ‘my crazy granny had that’ and ‘jimmy down the pub told me about’ and ‘I read/saw/heard it in fiction so, of course, it has to be true!’
Just stop. Please.
Misrepresentation of all forms of mental illness is rife, everywhere. What you believe and think about it is extremely likely to be massively, harmfully, flawed. And trust me, your beliefs, examined or unexamined, come through in so much of what you say and write.
I ramble. I know. Back to why I felt motivated to write this.
I was in a group chatting when the Texas shooting came up, and I was going to respond in group. I want to preface the rest with saying that I’m not angry or anything. I rarely actually get angry, it takes a lot.
Because I felt on the verge of meltdown, I decided to turn my thoughts into a blog post so it can be useful for others wishing to learn. And hopefully, no one will feel the need to either argue with me about my accurate information or accuse me of … whatever people who reject autistics from groups think we’re doing. (I don’t actually know what that is, if I did, I’d try to stop doing it.)
In case you don’t know me, I’m Kai. I’m an autistic, ADHD, mentally ill, disabled creator and disability advocate. I’m also a damned good writer and a great editor. I’m a life partner, a parent, a loyal friend, a traumatized and healing person, an irreverent shit, and an over educated pain in the ass. My degrees are in research oriented fields. I know how to do proper research, and how to do it well.
I’m out about some of my mental illnesses. Some I’m not because I get enough harassment just being out about being queer, autistic/adhd, and mentally ill. I’m diagnosed with chronic severe depression, high anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, C-PTSD, and bats in the belfry.
I’ve spent most of my 45 years trying to, somehow, be less autistic, less ADHD. This is impossible because my brain wiring is so different from an allistics. All I’ve ever hoped for was acceptance. It’s a basic human need, social acceptance. To date, there are 3 people I’m not related to who know most of my messy self and still love me, regardless.
I mask instead, since I can’t change my wiring. (Masking, in this usage, means having a socially acceptable persona that we pretend to be to get along in life.) I started intentionally masking my autistic traits when I was 9. So I could have friends who didn’t decide to hate me because they don’t understand me. So I could just… exist.
Masking kills autistic people, did you know that? The average age an autistic person dies is 36 years of age.
The suicide watch for parents of autistic and ADHD kids starts at 9 years old.
What do I mean by that? Wise parents start watching their autistic and ADHD kids closely for severe mental illness and suicidal attempts at the age of 9. (Technically, 9 for boys & AMABS, 11 for girls & AFABS.)
Why do we have to do that? I’ll spare you the terrifying statistics on suicide in autistic, ADHD, mentally ill, and people with other forms of neurodivergence. Mostly because I don’t want to look at them again, myself. I have young kids. You’d better believe I watch them.
That’s the point of my work. That’s why, even when I don’t want to stir the shit or when I just don’t want to talk about it… I do anyway.
Bias against neurodivergent people kills us. Mental illness is a form of neurodivergence. Autism and ADHD are too. Bias claiming autistic or mentally ill people are violent is factually untrue and it is killing us.
36 years old. That’s when most of us die. I’m past my expiration date by 9 years and goddess… it feels it. Every day grinds me down further. And that’s why I do the advocacy work I do.
It’s far, far too late for me. The world has broken me into the tiny shards of a kintsugi project, and I don’t have gold to glue myself back together. But I have children. If my advocacy work can make the world see what it’s doing to people like me, if I can help people understand… maybe the world will be kinder to future generations of autistic, ADHD, mentally ill, and otherwise neurodivergent people. My kids included.
I’m still working on taking off the mask. I still mask far more than I intend to. And I still, always, get into trouble when I slip into autistic speech patterns.
Autistic folk often get… emphatic, I guess, when we talk about things that matter to us. People can feel overwhelmed when we get going either because we’re excited or we care about the topic. Because… well, it can be a lot, I guess.
Most of us mask everywhere, which does end up killing us; as most forms of ableism tend to kill someone.
Since we mask, we only end up overwhelming people when we slip into what I call autistic mode. I caught myself before I managed to do it today in group.
I’m not always aware enough to catch myself before I slip. Especially, if I’m excited and enjoying a topic, and think people are also geeking out with me (instead of being overwhelmed). It’s really easy for my socially inept brain to not notice that people want me to shut up… on those occasions, I pay for it. (The fact I shouldn’t have to completely hide myself in order to have some semblance of a social life, because people don’t understand autism & adhd is a whole ‘nother blog post.)
I’m obviously not excited about the shooting in Texas, but the related topic I brought up is one that’s both intensely, personally painful and the focus of much of my advocacy work.
I was afraid that talking in group would result in another experience of ‘Kai slipped into autistic, had social doors slammed in xyr face, melted down, and had to leave the group.’
I’m rather tired of that happening, and I’m still deeply grieving the last group where a person or people made it obvious I wasn’t welcome because I can’t change that I’m autistic/ADHD.
When I’m upset, I can’t talk or respond to more than one person at once, if that. It’s a recipe for a meltdown. Hence, the manuscript/blog post.
I’m not looking for argument, debate, apologies or discussion. This isn’t an easy topic for me. I also wouldn’t be able to meet my gaze in the mirror if I didn’t say something. So.
I’ve been bullied and attacked and driven out of groups I really liked because people rarely stop to ask the intent behind an autistic’s words.
So… I just want to clarify; my only intent here is to educate. This is part of what I do in my advocacy work. It’s also incredibly painful for me, so as soon as I post this I’m getting off the net for a while. I don’t have the wherewithal to discuss this as if it’s not incredibly, personally painful, because it is.
The most recent shooting, today in Texas, is another horrific event and I’m beyond nauseated.
The very first thing many people do when another of these awful occurances happens is look around for a reason. It’s average human behavior. Because of decades of misrepresentation in media of mental illness and autism, (including by writers, which is why accuracy in any kind of representation is so important) the very first culprit people often think of is ‘it had to be someone mentally ill’ or ‘the shooter was obviously autistic or had autistic traits’.
This is almost universally untrue, because both populations are, by far, more likely to be the victim of violent crime than the perpetrator. There are plenty of studies out there about it. If you really want to read them.
Psychologically, it’s natural for humans to want there to be a reason. It’s even natural that we want the reason to be something that makes the perpetrator ‘not like me’. Few people want to believe themselves capable of buying a weapon, walking the halls of an elementary school, and then… I can’t even make myself type it. It’s so beyond horrifying.
That desire, that need, for us to believe we couldn’t do something like that, that ‘good people like me’ (tribalism) couldn’t do that… It makes mentally ill & autistic people easy targets. In the next few days, watch the news, you’ll likely see it.
The reason really does boil down to evil. The definition of evil is ‘profoundly immoral and wicked’.
There have been plenty of papers written on who a domestic terrorist is likely to be. (A cis white male without a history of mental illness or autistic traits between the ages of 16 to 30 is most likely. A cis white male without a history of mental illness or autistic traits between the ages of 45 and 60 is the second. Third is a cis male without a history of mental illness or autistic traits.) Yes, there are studies confirming this.
There are several things that play into this. Toxic masculinity is one. Radicalization is another. White nationalism, forced birthing, the list goes on and on. We want the answer and the culprit to be easy.
Unfortunately, it isn’t. That desire for an easy excuse harms people like me. It. Kills. Kids.
And it is not okay.
If anyone wants to read studies on this, the information is out there.
Mental illness has very little, if anything, to do with radicalization. To say it does is discrimination, and it’s ableist. There’s no proof. None. There’s a lot of information out there about how radicalization happens, too.
Calling for better mental health care when another terrorist shooter attacks may be well meant. We definitely need it, and I’m 100% for better mental health care everywhere. It would help so many people and massively improve society. I’ve always said everyone can use therapy.
And the connotations of shooter = we need better mental health care is painfully obvious.
Mentally ill people are not the ones doing this. While we absolutely need better mental health care, the people guilty of these atrocities aren’t the kinds who would use it.
Radicalized people often think they’re doing the right thing. Many of these acts have been racially motivated. And if the reasons are traced back, it often equals the ‘not enough white babies’ BS. Other motivations have been domestic violence and religious intolerance. None of these are mental illnesses.
It’s easy to say better mental health care would help. It would help a lot of things! Shooters would be in the vast minority. There’s plenty of studies that’ve been done on this topic, too.
The one thing I’d ask people to remember is this. Stop and think before you say anything.
Is your information on what you feel the fix is accurate? Is it fair? Does it unnecessarily demonize innocent people who don’t need more pain while they just try to survive? While we try to survive in a world that hates our very existence at worst, and barely tolerates it at best?
Every time another terrorist strikes. Every time. Someone trots out the ‘autistics did it’ or the ‘mentally ill people did it’ and that gets incredibly old, very painful, and exhausting faster than most average people can imagine.
It’s already a minefield, trying to just exist as either an autistic or mentally ill person in this world.
There isn’t a day that goes by that someone like me isn’t harmed by misperceptions or casual off-hand comments or someone harming us in another way.
Do you really need to add to it by either overtly or by connotation accusing autistic or mentally ill people of something so heinous it makes this mentally ill, autistic, ADHD person utterly nauseated? It will sicken most people like me. Autistics particularly usually have a hard wired need to help others.
So it’s particularly cruel to accuse an innocent population of people hard wired to help… with choosing to harm.
The solution to domestic terrorism isn’t in blaming it on people more likely to be the victim of violence than the perpetrator. Studies overwhelmingly support the statistics that autistic, ADHD, mentally ill, and other forms of neurodivergent people are far more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators.
But that’s not what people believe. And it’s certainly not what they say. It will take a multi-faceted approach to solve the problem. Because the problem is so multi-faceted.
Step one has to be acknowledging where the problem actually is.
It’s not with people like me.
If you got this far, thanks for reading.
If you have the wherewithal, I’m a disabled creative and my family lives in extreme poverty. My work of words is my only income.
If I made you think, even for a moment, please consider a tip.
Amazon Wishlist: http://www.amazon.ca/registry/wishlist/3H8AY0GKOU0SE/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_ws_x_1pnMyb8HRPSEM