Mass Shootings and Mental Health

Mass shootings occur with such frequency that the American public is becoming numb to them. In this piece I will be talking about mass shootings and mental illness. Acts of terrorism such as in Paris or San Bernardino are acts of religious zealotry and do not belong in this discussion.

Mass shooting is defined as an event involving three or more victims in a random manner occurring at one time. These atrocities are well planned out. Not under the purvey of this discussion: serial killings, botched home invasions, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, bank robberies, home invasions, murder-suicides or gang related shootings.

Mass shootings as defined above involve schizophrenia in fifty-per cent of the cases according to accepted literature. I reviewed fifteen of the most infamous acts of mass mayhem dating back to 1966 to see if this figure is correct.

Approximately 1% of the American population has schizophrenia of one form or another so that calculates to about three million persons. It cannot be emphasized enough that folks with schizophrenia are more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators of violence.

Symptoms of schizophrenia include various forms of delusions or hallucinations. Delusions are defined as false ideas such as feeling unduly observed or thoughts of superiority to the extreme of believing one is a famous person. Hallucinations include seeing, smelling, hearing or tasting something that does not exist. Thinking is usually disordered as to make no sense. Such confabulating as well as having blunted emotions and being socially withdrawn are frequent hallmarks as well.

The five types of schizophrenia are:

1. Paranoid schizophrenia (a person who is extremely suspicious, feels persecuted, or grandiose, or combinations thereof

2. Disorganized schizophrenia (incoherent speech and thought, but may not have delusions)

3. Catatonic schizophrenia ( a person who is withdrawn, mute, negative and may assume various body positions)

4. Residual schizophrenia ( a person no longer having delusions or hallucinations, but having no motivation or interest in life)

5. Schizoaffective disorder (a person having symptoms of both schizophrenia and a major mood disorder such as major depression disorder or bipolar disorder.

It is felt that mass shootings not involving schizophrenia fall under the category of personality disorders.

Briefly, there ten personality disorders:

1. Borderline personality disorder (impulsive, difficulty with relationships, self-image, feeling abandoned and self-harm). This is well described in Girl Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

2. Schizoid personality disorder (introverted and socially withdrawn)

3. Paranoid personality disorder (perceiving actions of others as threatening)

4. Schizotypal personality disorder (need for social isolation, anxiety in social situations)

5. Anti-social personality disorder (ignoring normal rules of social behavior)

6. Narcissistic personality disorder (increased sense of self-importance and non-accepting failure or criticism)

7. Avoidant personality disorder (sensitive to rejection, needing reassurance of being liked)

8. Dependent personality disorder (submissive and unable to make decisions)

9. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (striving for perfection, highly conscientious, orderly, methodical and detail oriented)

10. Histrionic personality disorder (needing to be the center of attention and dramatic)

Regarding Asperger’s, autism is now felt to be a spectrum called autism spectrum disorder (ASD) characterized as persistent deficits in social interaction, repetitive behavior, early onset and impairment of functioning. Asperger’s syndrome is a less severe form of ASD in which onset may be later. People with Asperger’s have an average vocabulary and want to interact with others but have difficulty doing so. They have a problem understanding social rules. IQ is usually advanced. Males predominate and major depression is likely to occur later in life.

In my review of fifteen of the most heinous mass shootings going back to 1966 I found that eight were committed by paranoid schizophrenics, five involved personality disorders, one a psychopath and one Asperger’s syndrome.

Psychopathy is a stand-alone diagnosis that rarely is responsible for mass shootings. Serial killers fall under the umbrella of psychopaths. In the one case above the individual was not a serial killer but had all the other features of psychopathy: callousness, lack of empathy or emotion, lack of feelings of disgust, lacking guilt, lack of fear, lack of responsibility, lying, increased sense of self-worth, rage, aggressiveness, meticulous in planning their crimes, lack of remorse as they view their victims as inhuman or playthings.

The demographics of mass shooters is obvious for we who see these events on TV and in print. Almost 100% are male and 79% were white and from upper middle class families.

I have written this article because of the waste basket terminology used by the media. Also, I believe the massive media coverage can lead to copy-cat crimes by individuals with these same mental issues but who want name recognition. I also have confirmed the literature’s statistics regarding the types of mental issues involved.