Mental illness isn’t a major risk factor for gun violence, but here’s what is

Having access to a gun is more of a risk factor for violence than being diagnosed with a mental illness, research shows.

That stands in stark contrast to a statement President Donald Trump made Monday in addressing the nation after this weekend’s mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas.

“Mental illness and hatred pull the trigger, not the gun,” Trump said.

Experts and lawmakers who are once again trying to make sense of what drives gun violence in the United States, however, disagree about what role, if any, mental illness plays.

“Mental illness diagnosis is not an evidence-based risk factor for risk of violence toward other people — 50 percent of Americans meet criteria for a mental illness at some point in their lifetime, and most will not go on to commit violent crimes,” said Beth McGinty, an associate professor of health policy and management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

According to the American Psychological Association, people with serious mental illness commit only about 3 percent of violent crimes.

“Routinely blaming mass shootings on mental illness is unfounded and stigmatizing,” the association’s president, Rosie Phillips Davis, said in a statement Sunday in response to the shootings. “The rates of mental illness are roughly the same around the world, yet other countries are not experiencing these traumatic events as often as we face them. One critical factor is access to, and the lethality of, the weapons that are being used in these crimes. Adding racism, intolerance and bigotry to the mix is a recipe for disaster.”

Additional research published by the APA found that problems with self-esteem and perceived social rejection are common characteristics among people who commit mass shootings.

Significant trauma over a period of time is another common experience among perpetrators of mass shootings, said Dan Flannery, director of the Begun Center for Violence Prevention at Case Western University.

“If you’re going to do screening, you need to screen for multiple things, and mental health is only one of them,” Flannery told NBC News. “You need to understand what’s going on in and consider stress points — what’s happening at work, in domestic life and their social media activity. If someone belongs to a lot of hate groups on social media, that’s a red flag.”

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