Once again, Americans experience the shock and horror of an elementary school mass shooting. The tragedy that occurred in Ovaldi, Texas, which left 19 children dead, is horrific. But, despite the statements of many politicians, this is not far from conceivable. In fact, as of early June, there were 33 additional mass shootings All over the country since the Ovaldi tragedy. However, the scale of the violence and the young victims of Ovaldi have left many incredibly shaken, searching for explanations and solutions.
In the aftermath of the school shooting, many have attempted to link the tragedy to the country’s mental health care crisis. In the decades since Columbine, critics and politicians have proposed many explanations for the school shootings, from violent video games to rap music. But these days, people are more likely to name mental illness as the cause of these heinous acts of violence.
Although there may be an association, there is no proven causal relationship between mental illness and gun violence, let alone school shootings or mass shootings. According to the National Institutes of Health, “The vast majority of people with serious mental illness never engage in violence. Moreover, researchers at Columbia University found that Only 8 percent of mass shootings suffer from serious mental illness. The instinct to blame mass shootings on serious mental illness is understandable, but ultimately harmful. Do just a little Stigmatizing and harming individuals with these diagnoses.
However, in the same Columbia University study, researchers found that mass shootings were more likely than the general population to have non-psychotic psychiatric or neurological symptoms. The public tends to confuse serious mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia or psychotic disorders, with violence and mass shootings. However, the evidence shows that there is too much focus on serious mental illness and not enough attention is paid to how less serious mental health issues contribute to gun violence when it is not detected or treated.
Mental health is more than just the serious disorders described in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-5), the primary diagnostic tool and authority published by the American Psychiatric Association. Individuals, even if they do not meet the DSM-5 criteria for mental illness, can deal with trauma, lack of closure, depression, anxiety, loneliness, and much more. These normal human experiences and feelings can worsen over time if left unresolved. Without healthy and effective coping skills, people who are struggling can resort to maladaptive methods to manage their feelings. Some may resort to maladaptive fantasies about violence. A small percentage may eventually act upon these violent fantasies in a distorted attempt to achieve closure or relief from their symptoms.
America does not need more DSM-5 diagnoses, hospitalizations, or intensive medical treatment modalities. We need better access to the simple everyday things mental health care This is critical to preventing suffering, interpersonal violence, and possibly even mass shootings. We must do more to help individuals who struggle to manage intense emotions or deal with traumatic experiences.
Having access to basic mental health care in this country is unfortunate. Most people don’t seek mental health treatment until they are in crisis — if they seek treatment at all. However, early mental health screenings and basic interventions can do much to reduce symptoms, stress and suffering. Fortunately, these interventions are not complicated, controversial, or expensive. We need pediatricians and primary care doctors to ask patients about their mental health and examine unmet mental health care needs. Speech therapy and skill-building interventions should be cheaper and easier to access. Basic psychological education should be taught in public schools.
Much of the debate about banning mass shootings is largely hateful and politicized. Basic gun control regulations will likely help reduce gun violence, but given the political landscape, these policies are unlikely to be passed. Instead, let’s focus on a potential solution to gun violence that is simple and effective and will have positive downstream effects on many aspects of American life. We can – and must – reduce violence and suffering across the United States by increasing access to basic mental health care for all Americans.
Dr. Tamer Eldad is a psychiatrist specializing in addiction treatment and founder and CEO of attentive care—The first award-winning emergency psychiatric care in the United States. Dr. Aldad graduated with an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and completed residency and fellowship training at Northwell Health, after graduating from medical school. He also conducted several years of behavioral health research as a clinical scientist at Yale University School of Medicine. He is passionate about acute mental health issues, general mental health, and improving access to affordable care.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author king.