Gun Violence and Its Tie to Mental Health

By November 10, 2019 June 23rd, 2020 Blog

We have all seen it occur before… an act of gun violence such as the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas or Dayton, Ohio followed by aggressive but brief debate over the cause of such a horrendous calamity and what must be done to prevent it from happening again. Those advocating for gun-rights are always quick to say that the cause of gun violence is mental illness,  violent video games and/or movies. On the other hand, gun-rights advocates are petitioning for more rigorous background checks and bans on the sale of particular guns and accessories.

While this debate continues to heat up across the country, it is important to check the facts before placing blame on a particular group of people or legislature.

It is no secret the United States is flush with guns. The U.S. has the highest number of privately-owned guns in the world with 88.8 guns per every 100 people. The second-ranked country is Yemen, a war-torn state, where there are 54.8 guns per 100 people. Even though the United States population makes up less than 5% of the world population, they make up 31% of all mass shootings globally. Additionally, the United States is home to 650 million civilian-owned guns, equating to nearly 50% of all guns across the globe.

These statistics still do not answer the question. What is the cause of gun violence? Sure, it could be argued that more guns equate to more shootings and violence, but there must be some underlying factor that explains it.

Mental health is constantly in the media as the villain when it comes to gun violence. It has been said so many times, it is almost hard not to believe that it is the cause. This is known as the illusory truth effect; after repeated exposure to a piece of information, people will begin to assume that it is true, regardless if it is actually true or not true. Familiarity and repetition can easily overcome rationality.

The truth is, there is no factual link between mental illness and violence against others. In fact, people with mental health disorders are up to 10 times more likely to be victims of a violent crime than the perpetrators. Mental illness, as defined by a formal diagnosis, by itself is not the strongest predictor of future violence. It has some predictive value but not as much of a predictive value as other things such as alcohol or substance abuse. If someone with a mental illness is going to hurt anyone, it would be themselves; two-thirds of gun deaths in this country are due to suicides, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Moreover, there is no single personality trait or profile or illness that can reliably predict who will resort to gun violence. However, based on research done by the American Psychological Association, all that is known is that a history of violence is the single best predictor of who will commit future crimes.

If people are going to talk about gun violence and its tie to mental health, they should focus their efforts on the victims. It is estimated by the National Center for PTSD that 28% of people who have witnessed a mass shooting develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD), and approximately a third develop acute stress disorder.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is a mental health diagnosis that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event.  PTSD can develop after a very stressful, frightening or distressing event, or after a prolonged traumatic experience, such as a mass shooting. While not everyone who experiences a mass shooting suffers from PTSD, those who do are by no means weak; PTSD is not a sign of weakness. 

PTSD can typically be grouped into four categories, including:

  • Intrusive memories: recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event; reliving the traumatic event (flashbacks); distressing dreams or nightmares about the traumatic event; severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds the person of their trauma. 
  • Avoidance: trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event; avoiding people, places, activities or things that remind the person of the traumatic event. 
  • Negative changes in thinking and mood: Negative thoughts about oneself, other people or the world; hopelessness about the future; memory problems, including not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event; feelings of detachment, lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities; feeling emotionally numb; difficulty maintaining or creating a close relationship.
  • Changes in physical and emotional reactions: Being easily startled or frightened, always being on guard, self-destructive behavior; trouble sleeping and/or concentrating; irritability, angry outburst, or aggressive behaviors; overwhelming feelings of guilt or shame. 

PTSD can happen to anyone at any time and currently affects roughly 3.5% of the population in the United States. Also, it is estimated that nearly 7 or 8 out of every 100 people will experience PTSD at some point in their lives, with women being twice as likely as men. For people suffering from PTSD, these symptoms cause significant anguish and can prohibit them from continuing to carry out their daily activities. 

Acute Stress Disorder

Acute Stress Disorder is a disorder that can develop after experiencing trauma. Someone with acute stress disorder may experience difficulty concentrating, feelings of detachment, difficulty feeling that everything is real and not dreamlike, or have difficulty remembering specific details of the event. Typically, people are diagnosed with acute stress disorder if three or more of the following symptoms are present: 

  • Detachment from society or absence of emotional responsiveness
  • Loss of awareness of surroundings 
  • Derealization and Depersonalization
  • Inability to recall an important aspect of the trauma (dissociative amnesia)

Importance of Early and Treatment and Intervention

Fortunately, there is hope for people who are suffering from mental illness caused by gun violence. There are treatments available, such as Accelerated Resolution Therapy®(ART), available to help a person regain control over their life.

Intervene as soon as possible on behalf of someone suffering from mental illness. Uncharacteristic behavior becomes increasingly destructive. Over time, buried and suppressed memories become more and more powerful. 

Accelerated Resolution Therapy® (ART) is an innovative, evidence-based therapy for PTSD, anxiety, depression, stress, and similar mental health issues. Initially, the therapy was primarily used to help veterans suffering from PTSD. One of the major advantages is the speed at which ART is able to bring relief. Generally, only one to five sessions are needed, not months or years of expensive psychiatric treatment. 

Accelerated Resolution Therapy works by reprogramming the traumatic memories that are preventing a person from enjoying the full life they deserve. The techniques work equally well on anyone suffering from trauma, regardless of the type of trauma experienced. Trauma, at the end of the day, is still trauma.

Regardless of how bad things may be, there is always hope, and there is always someone available to help you through difficult times. Contact ART International to learn more about ART or to find a therapist near you.