by Chuck Ruby, Ph.D.
A recent CNN report is the latest in a long line of horrific shootings and the unfortunately misinformed and misunderstood calls to deny gun ownership to those with "psychiatric problems". NIMH estimates that around 1 in 5 adults are diagnosed with "psychiatric problems" each year. This doesn't include substance abuse "psychiatric problems" and it doesn't include children or teenagers. Further it only includes people who have been formally diagnosed and not those who choose to stay out of the psychiatric system (probably a good choice for them). Lastly, this is only an annual prevalence; each year additional people can be diagnosed, effectively increasing the number of those who have had "psychiatric problems". So if we were to deny all those people the right to have a gun, we're talking about a very large proportion of the population, and many of those calling on gun restrictions would be surprised to find out they are among those with "psychiatric problems".
The problem with gun violence is not "psychiatric problems". Research fails to show a relationship between a diagnosis of mental disorder and risk of violence. Mental disorder diagnoses are merely very loose ways to categorize people with various emotional and behavioral dilemmas. They do not map onto actual neurobiological illnesses that cause violence. There is no such illness. Problem yes, illness no.
But the important thing to remember about gun violence is that a diagnosis is not a way to weed out people who are at risk. There are fairly robust factors that increase one's risk of violence, but the ever-inclusive label of "psychiatric problems" is not one of them. You can see a summary of this issue here: http://psychintegrity.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/The-Role-of-Mental-Illness-in-Violent-Behavior-July-2-2014.pdf, which includes how conventional mental health treatment can increase the risk of violence, and in particular how psychiatric drug use can increase the risk as shown here: http://psychintegrity.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/White-Paper-Psychiatric-Drugs-and-Violence.pdf.
If we are serious about reducing violence, we should be focusing in the right direction instead of searching for a scapegoat.