The myth of the mentally ill mass shooter

The Myth of the Mentally Ill Mass Shooter
by Pete Earley

Dylann Roof appears at a 2015 court hearing in North Charleston, S.C., after being accused of killing nine people inside Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. (Grace Beahm/AP)

(5-19-16) While I don’t like to simply post articles, a front page story on today’s Washington Post about mental illnesses and guns is worth reading.)
Most mass shooters aren’t mentally ill.
By Michael S. Rosenwald May 18 at 12:34 PM The Washington Post.

When it comes to mass shootings, President Obama and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan are in rare accord on a leading culprit.

Both point fingers at mental illness. And in poll after poll, most Americans agree.

But criminologists and forensic psychiatrists say there is a critical flaw in that view: It doesn’t reflect reality.

While acknowledging that some of the country’s worst mass shooters were psychotic — the Colorado theater gunman, James Holmes, with his orange-dyed hair; the Virginia Tech shooter, Seung Hui Cho, whom a judge ordered to get treatment — experts say the vast majority of such killers did not have any classic form of serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia or psychosis.

Instead, they were more often ruthless sociopaths whose ­behavior, while unfathomable, can’t typically be treated as mental illness.

The oversimplification, experts say, is perpetuated by the gun industry and a society that assumes that the mentally ill are the only ones capable of deadly rampages.


last thing i would want to do if i was paranoid and delusional, basically i barricaded myself against a wall in my house bc of radiation, i would never harm anyone, its against my nature.


Yea sz doesnt produce shooters…if the United States Government was smart they would put some of us sz in a Think Tank…but a violent sociopath is easy to spot and they often post on social media well before they act…the nsa sucks at finding these people…

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I knew this already. Most schizophrenics from my experience just wanna hide under the couch.


That’s my impulse everywhere I go. I want to hide.

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I have this hypothesis that, despite their psychotic states, they had a co-occurring diagnosis of psychopathy or sociopathy that was underplayed by the media. I think the truly psychotic ones who kill are hiding sociopathic traits, which contribute possibly more to the killings than did their psychotic states.

A lack of empathy and remorse seems to make people more inclined to act violently than hearing voices and being paranoid. Someone should really invent an empathy pill to induce empathy sensations. Maybe that kind of intervention would work. Or maybe it would lead to a Brave New World Dystopia of doped up compliant citizens. Who knows?..tangent—isn’t tangential thinking a symptom of sz? --tangent on the tangent—

Great article! I read it. “I don’t think you can design an intervention to prevent mass shootings.” —Gold from the article


That’s why I’m a strong believer in the concept of the “fearful” paranoiac. Something largely ignored by psychiatric definitions of paranoid people as aggressive and confrontational.
Does it mean we don’t have our reactions from time to time to situations? No,at the end of the day we are human with the flaws that entails. However for the most part many of us are backing away from interacting with others rather than heading full speed into confrontation with others at every opportunity.
For me my reactions, at times, might have been OTT but invariably there was a definite trigger that set things off ie the resulting paranoia didn’t just come out of the blue. In fact there was a link between the level of stress felt and the resultant lapse into increasing paranoia.
However for the most part , off line especially, I am avoidant and fearful. I may not literally hide behind the couch but my paranoia has me avoiding things because of the possibility of the kind of negative reactions I have got as a teenager and to, a lesser degree, an adult.
Bottom line; I am more scared of other people than people have reason to be scared of me.


This makes me sad. I want to influence others, so that they can know the truth.

I agree with @HQuinn. I have a hard time accepting schizophrenia as being the deciding factor for James Holmes, for example. He just wanted to kill people. I mean, he considered being a serial killer but discarded it because he wouldn’t be able to kill enough people.

He might have been on the schizophrenia spectrum, but there was something else going on with him.

This conflation of diagnoses is lazy reporting and causes significant harm here in the US. A forum member from Europe was telling me that when mental illness is discussed in the media in his country, psychiatrists are always quoted explaining exactly what the illness is and what symptoms it causes. I don’t know why that isn’t more common in the United States.


I don’t think of harming another person unless my mental and emotional space is being encroached on. The defensive reaction of harming thoughts is a knee jerk reaction. I usually don’t entertain harming thoughts. They can lead to guilty feelings. I am much more, almost predominantly scared of being harmed by others. The people who work up a huge fantasy about killing a number of people in one fell swoop are loners. They are acting alone.

I think there’s a danger in two extreme positions when it comes to violence and psychosis/schizophrenia.

  1. The position that most with psychosis/schizophrenia are latently violent and 2. The position that those with psychosis/schizophrenia can never be violent and something else must always explain their actions.
    The truth is a very small amount of people with psychosis/schizophrenia are prone to violence and instead of hiding from that factor, or conflating it into position 1, there’s a need to improve mental health care to reduce such violence. Much of it I have read is connected to comorbid substance abuse(alcohol,illegal drugs).
    When it comes to mass killings a small number may be by people with psychosis/schizophrenia but it is not a case of zero such killings. There should not be a rush to automatically presume the perpetrator has psychosis/schizophrenia or to presume the perpetrator can never have psychosis/schizophrenia.
    The important thing is to get that small minority at increased risk of committing violence into timely treatment by improving access to treatment including dual diagnosis programs.

Slowly, the Stigma against Schizophrenia is being more and more dissolved.
Someday we will be regarded just violent against ourselves more than anyone else. That was the main premise of my book is that we are not violent. We can be more of a danger to ourselves than the thought of hurting others.