When highly publicized issues, such as the topic of school shootings, enter the public consciousness, opinions are had by all. In an ideal world, we would be able to take everyone’s opinion into account and then collectively come up with a solution. This does not happen in real life. Unfortunately, it is much more likely for people to argue with one another vs. work together. Many of the disagreements come from a place of misunderstanding and a lack of communication.
Mental Health’s contribution to the discussion is not always well understood.
When reading or watching content regarding school shootings, people often hear the phrase, “This person does not have mental illness.” But, how can that be? How can someone who commits a heinous crime like a school mass shooting not be considered mentally ill? The answer to these questions are found in the definition of a mental illness that mental health providers use professionally.
When a mental health professional talks about “mental illness,” they are usually referring to a diagnosis in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistics Manual). The diagnoses that are outlined in this manual are highly studied and debated amongst leaders in the field. A decline in function is the hallmark of most DSM diagnosis and prompt some level of intervention, usually in the form of therapy or medication management.
A decline in function is a major factor in the determination of mental illness, however, mental illness does not mean someone has lost the ability to plan, make rational decisions, or can no longer take responsibility for their actions. In certain types of illnesses, such as schizophrenia, for instance, there could be questions about one’s capacity to make decisions.
What is important to note here is that the capacity to make decisions often correlates with loss of function in other areas of life, such as the ability to plan, organize, or intelligently manipulate the environment. With many school shooters, there is often a high level of planning, malice aforethought, and premeditation.
In theory, this is not something that someone with mental illness would be able to accomplish, as they barely have the wherewithal to clothe or feed themselves. The steps involved with purchasing a weapon and planning an attack weeks ahead of time is unlikely for these people. It is more likely for someone with this level of impairment to be assaulted than to assault others.
Social anxiety is a type of anxiety disorder that impacts over 15 million adults; it often develops around the age of 13, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. It should be noted that while mental illness may not be the primary cause of these heinous acts, it must be acknowledged that many mass shooters suffer from symptoms of depression or anxiety. There are genetic factors to consider, as well as environmental factors, such as bullying. Despite having these comorbid conditions, it must be restated explicitly, that having depression or anxiety does not render a person incapable of knowing right from wrong.
Despite being a widespread disorder, many people do not know how to recognize the signs of anxiety in themselves or others. Besides using DSM criteria to diagnose symptoms, low energy levels, restlessness, irritability, distress, muscle aches and cramps, headaches, and decreased cognitive function are also common side effects of anxiety disorders.
Anxiety treatment in Los Angeles consists of psychotherapy or medications or both. Many people living with anxiety disorders are unaware of how beneficial treatment is to improving their outlook. Instead of living with the negative impact of depression or anxiety on overall mental health, increasing awareness can help reduce and prevent school attacks.
For example, social anxiety therapy in Los Angeles consists of cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT. Patients learn how to identify triggers or situations that cause them to have negative thoughts and behaviors. They also learn coping skills that enable them to adopt positive and less harmful behaviors and emotional responses.
Anxiety treatments vary greatly, but are influenced by individual physical and mental health history, the types of situations and fears that cause toxic and harmful behaviors and patient comfort and confidence levels. For some, anxiety treatment involves several sessions in group or individual settings. For many others, treatment may be long-term or lifelong. Those who require additional support to overcome anxiety may also require medication.
It is reasonable to ask questions regarding how much the treatment of anxiety and depression could prevent school shootings. Answering these questions could be where mental health plays a role in preventing future occurrences.
Other factors such as gun control and school safety measures will continue to be debated, as addressing them could also help with prevention. Hopefully, with a clearer understanding of mental health’s position on the matter, the decision makers of the United States can make a more informed decision about mass shootings in schools.