A study shows that mass school shootings are not caused by mental illness
A research team at Columbia University Medical Center Irving and the New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI), studying 82 mass murders that took place at least in part at academic institutions around the world, found that the majority of mass murderers and mass shootings did not have severe mental illnesses.
The study, led by Reggie R. Girgis, MD, and Gary Brukat, Ph.D., research associate, also found that most mass murderers used firearms, most often semi-automatic or fully automatic firearms. Among the events of the mass school murder not involving the use of firearms, stab wounds were the most common method.
The study, published online Oct. 27 in the Journal of Forensic Sciencesis the largest analysis of mass school shootings ever conducted, according to the study’s authors.
“Our findings suggest that mass school shootings are different from other forms of mass killing and that they should be treated as a separate phenomenon,” said Dr. Girgis, director of the Center for Prevention and Evaluation (COPE), a research clinic. at Columbia/NYSPI, specializing in the study and treatment of young people at high risk for schizophrenia and other psychoses.
“To prevent future mass school shootings, we need to start focusing on the cultural and social determinants of such events, such as the romanticization of guns and gun violence, rather than individual predictors.”
To conduct their study, the researchers analyzed data from the Colombian Mass Homicide Database (CMMD), developed by the COPE team, to gain much-needed insight into the relationship between serious mental illness and mass shootings. The creation of the CMMD involved a broad review of 14,785 murders publicly described in English in print or online that occurred worldwide from 1900 to 2019.
For mass school shooting The researchers isolated cases of mass killings committed at least in part at schools, colleges, and universities and classified them by location (within or outside the United States) and whether a firearm was used.
Of the 82 mass killings involving academic institutions:
- Almost half (47.6%) and most firearms (63.2%) were located in the US
- According to previous reports, criminals mass shootings with participation from academic institutions mainly Caucasian (66.7%) and male (100%)
- Severe mental illness (such as psychosis) was absent in most offenders; if present psychotic symptoms more related to mass killings in academic institutions using means other than firearms
- About half (45.6%) of mass shootings in schools ended in the suicide of the perpetrators
Co-author Paul C. Appelbaum, MD, the Elizabeth C. Dollard Professor of Psychiatry, Medicine and Law at Columbia University, said that identifying mental illness as the primary cause of violence is misleading.
“The findings strongly suggest that focusing on mental illnessespecially mental illness, when talking about the risks of mass school shootings, other factors that contribute to the vast majority of cases are missing, as well as exacerbating the already widespread stigma around severe mental illness” said Dr. Appelbaum.
Noting that nearly half of all shooters died at the scene, the authors hypothesize that perpetrators may consider themselves to be engaged in some form of terminal action.
The researchers hope that the findings will help lawmakers and law enforcement officials better understand the phenomenon of mass school shootings and how mass school shootings differ from other forms of mass murder. The authors also emphasize that these data cannot be used to predict behavior at the individual level.
Ragy R. Girgis et al, School, College, and University Mass Murders by Firearms and Other Methods: Findings from the Columbia Mass Homicide Database, Journal of Forensic Sciences (2022). DOI: 10.1111/1556-4029.15161
Citation: Study Finds Mental Illness Not Cause of Mass School Shootings (October 31, 2022) Retrieved October 31, 2022 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2022-10-mass-school-mental -illness.html
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