The issue of the basis on mental illness for gun violence


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Psychology Today's photo depicting mental illness.

Ainsley Martinez, North Staff Writer

The problem with lawmakers focusing on the relationship between mental illness and violence is that there is none, at least on the basis for diagnosis. In an “All Things Considered” segment on NPR, Alicia Chang and psychiatrist Jonathan Metzl discussed the relevance of mental illness toward gun violence.

“There’s no psychiatric diagnosis that’s aligned with harming other people, let alone shooting people,” Metzl said.

He explained that the assumption of illnesses such as schizophrenia and depression being factors of gun violence are wrong. And at a psychological standpoint- it makes sense. At even a basic level, looking at the DSM-5 there is no box to check for violent behavior. Violence isn’t a symptom to many disorders that lawmakers use to explain mass shootings. A key point on these mental illnesses: Violence is not a required trait for diagnosis.  Because of that, one cannot differentiate one person’s potential for shooting from another.

Mental background checks in the United States only account for a fragment of people with a mental illness. The limiting factors to owning a gun consist of being committed into a mental hospital, and a court declaring a person mentally incompetent. But according to the National Institute of Mental Health 45 percent of mental illnesses go undiagnosed. That means only about half of people struggling with a mental illness are clinically recognized- and the majority of those do not fit the criteria to stop gun possession. Although many want to strengthen mental background checks, it is near impossible to determine what a person’s actions will be in the future. Even though a person might not exhibit dysfunction currently, many illnesses can develop throughout time- but not all result in brutality.  In a Ted Talk, Eleanor Longden explained that her journey with schizophrenia started with simple phrases in her head, and gradually grew into a “nightmare”. Environmental influences come into play with mentally ill people as well. External influences can trigger previously undocumented internal reactions. It is important to realize that actions within mental illnesses can fluctuate depending on experiences and severity. Not one disorder is the same for everyone, and not everyone reacts the same way to certain events.

When mass shootings like Florida’s happen, it’s easy to deem someone as mental ill when so much pain and confusion wells inside us. However, it is difficult to ride all gun prevention on mental illness when the concept is so abstract. So what is the prevention? How do we lead into a new era of change and fulfill the movement of #NeverAgain? There is never going to be one solution, but there are a surplus of steps and ideas that can possibly achieve the need for safety.

In February, Michael Ian Black wrote “The Boys Are Not Alright” for the New York Times. When reading, it showed how society has played into the role of men with guns. The concept of masculinity has been dangerously established, and especially when the basis itself promotes thick-skinned, indifferent individualism. This ingrains an emotional notion psychologically and socially. Many countries have the same problem with detrimental models of masculinity. As a people we should support healthy norms about masculinity.

Another familiar step to prevent gun violence is to ban assault rifles. Although controversial, the law is actually psychologically based. American psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg did research on the development of moral order. He proposed that moral development is universal regardless of individual differences in experience and culture. The 5th stage of moral development states that a good society is best conceived as a social contract between people to work toward the benefit of all. Not everyone is on the same moral stage, but this is still a recurring theme in our everyday lives. It is why everyone has to go 40 mph, and why in Oklahoma you can’t buy a cold beer at a liquor store. Because although you swear you’d never drink and drive- someone did… and another did, causing drunk driving to be a leading cause of death in the U.S. So the state did something about it.  In every society we need this social order regardless of the 316 million gun owners not shooting people- because we have to think about the ones that did, and the ones that paid for it.