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Hate is not a mental illness

By Sarah Mead, CNP

In the aftermath of acts of gun violence, it is important to first acknowledge the friends, families, and communities that have been greatly impacted by the senseless act of violence. Gun violence is an issue that impacts us all and demands that we all play a part in ending it.

Behind every shooting is a victim and grieving community experiencing unimaginable trauma that is difficult to process. Even communities not directly impacted by the loss can feel grief and confusion.

Many people must ask themselves why these tragedies happened and how they can help prevent them in their communities. Ultimately, there is no single reason or predictor for human behavior; however, there are steps we can take to make a better future.


To make sense of these tragedies, it’s often easiest to make mental illness the scapegoat for mass shootings and gun-related violence. It’s common to read reports about “psychotic” or “mentally disturbed” shooters. These headlines reinforce the harmful myth that mental illness causes violence.

Research consistently shows that the majority of people living with mental illness are not violent towards others, and only contribute to about 4% of all violence. In fact, people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of interpersonal violence.

Research shows an increased risk of gun violence comes from a history of violence, including domestic violence, use of alcohol or illegal drugs, being young and male, and/or a personal history of physical or sexual abuse or trauma.

We must dispel the myth that living with a mental illness makes you dangerous and likely to harm others, as it may lead to people avoiding mental health services.


Mental illness by itself is not a predictor of gun violence towards others. Systemic racism, homophobia, and childhood traumas are.

“Most of the time, mass shooters aren’t driven by delusions or voices in their head. They are driven by a need to wield their power over another group. They are angry at the perceived injustices that have befallen them at the hands of others — women who wouldn’t sleep with them, fellow students who didn’t appreciate their talents, minorities enjoying rights that were once only the privilege of white men like them. It’s not an altered perception of reality that drives them; it’s entitlement, insecurity, and hatred. Maybe some of them also have depression, ADHD, or anxiety, but that is not why they opened fire on a group of strangers.” – Amy Barnhorst, MD, Vice Chair for Community Mental Health in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, Davis.

People who commit shootings can be driven by racist ideologies and conspiracy theories. They wrongfully believe they are fixing a problem and that violence is the best means of achieving it. Their very public act of violence is used to amplify their voice and actions, sometimes in the form of a manifesto or as a livestream.

In many cases, the shooting was intended to be their final act. The majority of people who commit school shootings die in the attack, nearly all self-inflicted. Their path to violence involves self-hate turned outward at the world. While they can exhibit a multitude of possible motivations, motivations to commit mass shootings mostly reflect social conditions, especially those that represent toxic masculinity, social exclusion, and racism.


To prevent gun violence, we need to stop focusing on mental illness as the culprit and redirect our efforts towards youth that have experienced trauma.

Proactivity needs to extend to the traumas in early life. Not only do early exposures to trauma need to be addressed when they happen with ready to access services, but they need to reduce the barriers that cause the traumas from happening in the first place.

While there is no single solution to this problem, there are programs and services in place that can address some of the issues. This includes having access to stable housing, food, and education, by having stable employment, by having general encouragement and support, and building relationships. Reducing barriers will help promote the social and emotional success of all Americans, thus hopefully leading to less trauma and less mass shootings.

Their crises are often known to others before the shooting occurs. It is crucial for people who see or sense something is wrong to say something, but people don’t know what to do. Proactive violence prevention starts with initiating conversations and establishing systems for identifying those in crisis, reporting concerns and reaching out. Everyone should be trained to recognize the signs of a crisis.

People who commit these shootings are often disconnected from other people. They find their sense of belonging online with other like-minded people who have this skewed vision of reality. This is partly why mass shootings tend to come in clusters. They see others gain fame and glorification for these horrendous acts use it to validate their feelings of anger that justify their will to murder. That is why it’s important to stop giving notoriety and publicity to people who perpetrate violence against others, and equally as important to build relationships, especially with youth who feel left out and alone.

We can all slow the spread of mass shooting notoriety by changing how we interact on social media.

- Do not like or share violent content

- Do not share manifestos or videos of the shootings

- Do not use the name of the person who committed the shooting

- Do not share anything that feeds shooters’ fame


We need to be careful that the response to gun violence tragedies does not discourage people with mental health conditions to seek treatment.

Our nation needs to have an honest conversation regarding all of the factors that play into gun violence and how we can prevent it. Only then can we find a solution to protect our children and communities.


Not sure what you can do besides sending thoughts and prayers? There is no one thing that can solve gun violence, but here are 7 ways you can begin:

1. Attend diversity and equity workshops. You can learn how to better identify injustice in your community and work towards eliminating systemic racism and homophobia.

2. Make sure children are receiving positive information about diversity and equity. Banning Critical Race Theory and anti-racism educations harms our community.

3. Help break the mental health stigma surrounding violence. Stay informed, research, and make sure you have accurate information before sharing.

4. Practice #nonotoriety. Do not share shooters’ names, photos, or manifestos.

5. Attend local gun violence initiatives in your community.

6. Attend a suicide prevention training. You can see all upcoming trainings at

7. Get involved and build relationships in your community. has hundreds of volunteer opportunities where you can make a positive impact in someone’s life.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call 269-381-HELP or text HOME to 741741. Dial 211 to get assistance with many needs, ranging from after-school programs, housing and utility assistance, food pantries, eviction diversion, mental health services, and more.

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