Mental illness and shootings: No strong link

We still need to be vigilant, be aware signs, seek help

By Brent Lawyer - Contributing columnist

It’s been a few weeks since the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. It was a day that deeply affected millions of Americans – among them, my staff at Mental Health Recovery Services of Warren & Clinton Counties (MHRS), members of our Board of Directors, and me.

There was, and is, no escaping the feelings of loss and caring for everyone this touched. And those feelings were no different than those we experienced after previous shootings.

But there was also another common thread: media interviews with people who claim this and previous incidents like it are the result of someone having a “mental health issue.”

They’d say the person who carried out this and other mass shootings had some undiagnosed mental illness, or that there were signs of it that were missed.

Researchers looking into this idea have a different idea. A February 16th New York Times article highlighted some important findings:

• An analysis of 235 mass killings found 22 percent of the perpetrators could be considered mentally ill

• Overall, mass shootings by people with serious mental illness represent just one percent of all homicides each year

• Americans do not appear to have more mental health problems that other developed nations

• A 2016 study estimated that just four percent of violence is associated with serious mental illness

The research done on this issue so far has shown that while there is some association between mental illness and violence, it is not a strong association.

So, if that’s the case, what does this mean we need to do?

First, we still need to pay attention to mental health issues. There is no substitute for knowing the signs of potential mental illness and how to help someone who may need counseling. Here are just a few signs from the National Alliance on Mental Illness:

• Excessive worry or fear

• Confused thinking or problems concentrating or learning

• Extreme mood swings, including uncontrollable highs or feelings of euphoria

• Changes in eating or sleeping habits

• Feeling excessively sad or low

Secondly, it’s imperative to know where to turn for help.

There are agencies across Warren and Clinton Counties that offer many treatment options. As the board of mental health and addiction services serving these two counties, MHRS works with those agencies to ensure there are safe, quality treatment options available to residents who need them.

These services cover a continuum of care, from one-on-one outpatient counseling to hospitalization treatments and everything in between.

Some local resources are also available to help. MHRS has placed kiosks across our two-county service area that offer no-cost assessments.

When you answer the questions, you’ll get a result that you can email to yourself and use for additional follow-up with your doctor or a mental health professional. No one will know you took the assessment. You can also complete an assessment at home by visiting our website.

There are also other options to use if you need them: The Crisis Hotline at (877) 695-NEED (6333) and the Crisis Text Line by texting “4hope” to 741741.

We know from best practices across the country that community supports are important components to recovery. That’s why we contract with agencies that provide housing, vocational training, peer support and more.

MHRS staff are committed to ensuring the residents of Warren and Clinton Counties who need services for mental health and addiction issues have strong programs and caring treatment professionals providing quality help.

Whether the issue is anxiety or depression, or something deeper, you should have confidence that you can find the help you need for yourself or a loved one.

For more information on our partner agencies, check our Network Provider Guide or visit our website at and click on the Partners tab.

You will find contact information for each of our partner agencies.

Brent Lawyer is Executive Director, Mental Health Recovery Services of Warren & Clinton Counties.
We still need to be vigilant, be aware signs, seek help

By Brent Lawyer

Contributing columnist