By Jack Singer, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
We are hearing suggestions that anyone with Asperger’s Syndrome, Autism, Bi-Polar Disorder, Schizophrenia, or even social awkwardness is a candidate for engaging in rampage behavior.
The fact of the matter is that the number of rampage/mass murder incidents in the US since 2000 is 27, including the Sandy Hook massacre. Of course, even 1 incident is horrific, but the facts show that these are extremely rare events.
Now, let’s examine the numbers of Americans who suffer from any form of mental illness. According to a new report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a full 20 % of all Americans experienced an episode of mental illness in 2010 and approximately 5% of the population have suffered “from such severe mental illness that it interfered with day-to-day school, work or family.”
About 11.4 million adult Americans suffered from severe mental illness in the past year and 8.7 million adults contemplated serious thoughts of suicide. Nearly 2 million teens, or 8 percent of the adolescent population, experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. Again, if anyone suffering from severe mental illness could become dramatically violent, then the number of mass killings would be staggering!
So, certainly, there are millions of people with Asperger’s, autism, social anxiety, and even psychoses, but only a tiny number of people with such diagnoses ever commit any crimes, let alone mass murders.
Profiles of Rampage Perpetrators
Typically, people who perpetrate rampage killings are white males, loners, have a college degree or some college, are from relatively stable backgrounds and are from upper- middle to middle class families. They often aspire to more than they can handle, then feel disenfranchised and blame others if they fail.
While it is true that they are much more likely to suffer from a mental illness, it is typically some type of psychosis, which means they have lost touch with reality and could be suffering from hallucinations and/or delusions. These are not symptoms of Asperger’s, autism or being socially uncomfortable. Most often, these perpetrators are not identified as mentally ill, nor do they get help.
Predictors of Violence
So, with so many millions of Americans suffering from emotional and mental illnesses, how can we predict which ones will be suddenly violent? By far, the number one predictor of violence is alcohol and/or drug abuse. Severe mental illness in and of itself is definitely not a predictor.
Here is a critical finding: A 1988 study in the Archives of General Psychiatry found that after patients were discharged from psychiatric facilities, those who did not abuse alcohol or illegal drugs had a rate of violence exactly the same as that of anyone else in the community.
In a study entitled, Violence and Severe Mental Illness: The Effects of Substance Abuse and Non- adherence to Medication, it was found that when a seriously mentally ill individual combined not taking any psychotropic medication, with abusing either alcohol or drugs, there was a significant increase in serious and violent acts.
So clearly, the only logical conclusions we can draw at this point are that the most important ways of preventing violent acts, such as rampages, are:
- Early recognition and treatment of severe mental illness in general, and psychoses in particular;
- keeping psychiatric patients on their meds;
- keeping psychiatric patients off alcohol and drugs
The Failure of Our Mental Health System
Part of the problem is that parents often assume their child is “just different” and do not reach out for help from the mental health system. Add to this the sad reality that across the U.S., our mental health system is severely understaffed and cannot keep up with the demand it has now.
Finally, because we have become a nation of people engaging in “politically correct” behavior and protecting the rights and confidentiality of patients… the parents, friends and neighbors of people suspected of being disturbed cannot get these people into the system. Currently, unless people admit to suicidal or homicidal intent, police will not pick them up for evaluation, nor will the system keep them under watch.
So, we need to re-vamp our mental health system, to be more inclusive, even if we may trample on patients’ rights now and then. Certainly erring in the conservative direction will save lives, will it not?
What we do not want to do is indict millions of people struggling with mental health issues as if they are likely to commit violence. This is simply an absurd over-generalization.
Improve the mental health care delivery system in general and we will help all people in need, including that tiny population of mentally unhealthy people who could have the propensity of becoming suddenly violent.
About the Author:
Dr. Jack Singer is a professional speaker, trainer and psychologist. He has been speaking for and training Fortune 1000 companies, associations, CEO’s and elite athletes for 34 years. Among the association conventions which Dr. Jack has keynoted are those which serve financial planners.
Dr. Jack is a frequent guest on CNN, MSNBC, FOX SPORTS and countless radio talk shows across the U.S. and Canada. He is the author of “The Teacher’s Ultimate Stress Mastery Guide,” and several series of hypnotic audio programs, some specifically for athletes and some for anyone wanting to raise their self-confidence and esteem. To learn more about Dr. Singer’s speaking and consulting services, please visit DrJackSinger.com and FunSpeaker.com or call him in the U.S. at (800) 497-9880.