TURES COLUMN: Mental health and mass shootings really aren’t connected

Published 9:30 am Thursday, June 1, 2023

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Governor Gregory Abbott blamed the shooting at a Texas mall on mental health. Critics have claimed that Texas’ budget cuts in health and low spending contributed to the tragedy, as well as other such killings in the Lone Star State. Both may be overstating the connection between mental health and mass shootings. I look at what the American Psychological Association has found, as well as my analysis of mass shootings and spending on mental health in states.

HuffPost reported that on Fox News after a pair of mass shootings in Texas, Abbott said “‘What Texas is doing in a big-time way, we are working to address that anger and violence by going to its root cause which is addressing the mental health problems behind it…People want a quick solution…The long-term solution here is to address the mental health issue.”

Yet last year after the Uvalde shooting “CNN’s Pamela Brown reported that despite Abbott’s assertion that the issue is tied to mental health, he’s cut more than $117 million from the state’s Health and Human Services Commission in 2021 to a little more than $93 million in 2022. Mental Health America, a non-profit tracking mental health resources across the country, however, ranked Texas 50 out of 51 territories for mental health access in 2021. It also ranked 15 for adults and 30 for youth — indicating that it had high prevalence of mental health illnesses but limited care” according to Business Insider.

In response to ABC News reporting on Abbott’s budget cuts, his office put out the statement. “Governor Abbott also made addressing statewide mental health needs an emergency item during the 86th legislative session, passing and signing a bill creating the Child Mental Health Consortium and the Child Psychiatric Access Network.” CPAN “provides telehealth-based consultation and training to primary care providers.”

Would simply spending more on mental health solve the problem? To determine this, I use the Mental Health America data on rankings for mental health resource availability, and analyze all mass shootings in America for 2023, comparing the 19 states with a mass shooting (with multiple victims and at least three dead with more) with the 31 which have other shootings.

Results show that states which had a mass shooting averaged a ranking of 24th among all states, in comparison to 27th in mental health resources for states that did not have a mass shooting. There was no significant different in mental health resources and mass shootings. I alter the types of shooting cases, and the states included, but the results do not change. I didn’t find a statistical relationship between mental health resources and these spree slaughters.

An APA report about mental health and mass shootings reveals “It is important to learn about these issues not only to better treat these individuals and to aid their families and communities but to combat the misperception that most people with serious mental illness are violent, adds Jeffrey Swanson, PhD, a medical sociologist at the Duke University School of Medicine and a prominent researcher of the topic. “For example, people often believe that people with mental illness are largely responsible for incidents of mass violence and that people with mental illness are responsible for a large share of community violence. Yet both views have been roundly debunked by research, says Swanson.”

Mental health spending is a good idea, not just to treat those with problems, but it could cut down on the massive numbers of suicides. But it won’t cut down on the mass shooters, who often are either undiagnosed or have other anger issues unrelated to mental health, combined with easy access to firearms. That would likely do more to cut down on all of those killings.