Shootings and Mental Illness


Recently our country has suffered from yet another mass shooting, the worst in United States history; 58 people were killed while attending an outdoor concert in Las Vegas.


What follows these tragic events are political arguments for either more gun control and more funding for mental illness services.  All of the news programs follow with long-winded discussions about the “mental state” of the attacker(s) and the term mental illness is thrown around and people lump everything under the sun as a ‘mental illness’. As a parent of a special-needs child, who is diagnosed with Autism and Mental Retardation, I dread the aftermath of these events.


What I see is that the media automatically correlates mental illness with mass shootings; if someone kills a large group of people they must be mentally ill or were treated for some sort of mental illness at some point during their lifetime. 


The truth is, that is not always the case.  Sometimes, there are people in this world that do bad things for many reasons, some see killing a large group of innocent people as a statement for their religious views, political views or they simply want attention. I am not trying to downplay or make excuses or anyone who commits these types of violent acts. However,I think running back to the ‘mental illness’ case  makes people feel safer; they think if we can identify who is ‘mentally ill’ than we will have a better handle on preventing these types of situations. Well guess what? It doesn’t work that way.


Firstly, you can’t always identify who is suffering from a mental illness, people are good at hiding things, and second, just because someone is mentally ill does NOT mean they are prone to commit a mass shooting. I feel this topic is an important one, because parents like myself, have already been fighting an uphill battle for quality services, inclusion, and the need for adult-services for years.


I fear that “mental illness” is becoming the new ‘terrorist label’; much like how the labels of Muslim or illegal immigrants’  as terrorists is being spewed out by the media and the government.


I bring this up today because I remember when the Sandy Hook incident took place, the reports then began to surface that the shooter was apparently diagnosed with Autism and the ‘mental illness debates’ would begin to take place.


The fact is Autism is a neurological disorder that effects normal brain function that results in developmental delays in communication and social behaviors.


However, incidents like Sandy Hook and the more recent Las Vegas massacre always brings mental illness to the forefront and it seems as if the media and society, in general, lumps all mental illness conditions and disorders into this dialogue.


So, what is my point?  If you are someone who has no personal experience dealing with mental illness or working with people who are mentally ill, please do your research.  Do not think that all people who are classified with any type of mental illness or neurological disorders are prone to committing violent acts.  Three to five percent of all violent acts are committed by people who are diagnosed with a mental illness. Notice the number is not high, and typically the acts are not committed against people they don’t know, typically they lash out at the people around them, relatives, caregivers, healthcare workers, etc. I’m not saying that incidents like the one in Vegas are never committed by people who are mentally ill, but it is not as a common as the media has you believe.

I really worry about this dialogue that follows these tragic events. 


Muslims that I know in this country who are law-abiding, good-hearted citizens often have to endure racial slurs and attacks on their places of worship. Just because someone is Muslim does NOT mean they are an Islamic extremist planning a terrorist attack, just as someone who is suffering from mental illness is not always capable of committing a violent attack such as the one in Las Vegas.


My son is 17-years-old and has had violent behaviors in our home from the age of 10-13 years old.  Those years were extremely hard on my husband and I and having your child punch you and scream for hours was a horrendous experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone.


However, my son has the mental compacity of a five-year-old, he doesn’t know what a gun is, how to use one and doesn’t have the cognitive or logistical thinking to conduct any type of violent events that we have been witnessing here in the United States.


Please do not fear those who are suffering from mental illness, neurological or psychiatric disorders. 


I have my own issues, such as depression, anxiety and panic attacks, I’m not perfect either and yes, I do have some anger issues; and yes I am on medication to help alleviate these issues. I know this topic is “not that simple”, there are other factors when it comes to issues such as these and I do understand that people who have suffered traumatic events in their childhood can lead to an adult on-set of mental illness which can possible lead to people committing public attacks—but that is exactly my point. There are different situations and circumstances that people are in who are diagnosed with a mental illness.


Again, do not let the media or society make you fearful of the term ‘mental illness’, do not begin to correlate ‘mental illness’ with that of ‘domestic terrorism’.


I understand everybody wants to know “Why did this happen? Why did that happen?”, unfortunately, there is not always an answer.


Each event must be seen as a separate incident and not grouped together, each one is different, each perpetrator is different from the other, just because two perpetrators may be found to have been suffering from mental illness does not mean they are the same kind of people and that others who have a diagnosis similar to them does not mean that those people will commit the acts as they have.


Let’s start an informed conversation about mental health in the U.S.



Kim is married and has is the parent of a special-needs child diagnosed with Autism and IDD (Intellectual Developmental Disability). She has a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature from UMBC. Kim has worked for the Government, both as an employee and contractor, worked as a Communications Director for a non-profit organization and then went on to run her own web development and social media consultation business for five years before relocating to Downingtown, PA. Kim enjoys writing, working out, reading, spending time with her family, which includes her three English Bulldogs and she is a Beatles’ fan. In addition, she is also a member of the Screen Actor’s Guild and has worked in various films and TV shows from 1994 – 2003. She currently is working on her first book; a fictional psychological thriller about one woman’s journey finding out the truth behind a former high school classmate’s suicide.