Is There a Direct Link Between Mental Illness and Mass Shootings?

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This past Sunday, Florida and the rest of the United States experienced one of the worst mass shootings in u-s history. Although we're still learning much about the shooter, mental health is typically at the forefront.

“At a certain level I do think that [mental health] that's at least an important thing for us to be talking about,” says Dr. David Wheeler, neurologist.

But for 20 years now it's been illegal for the Centers for Disease Control to study the underlying causes of mass shootings.

“We know almost nothing new about why people commit mass shootings than we did 30 years ago. And so this is a very challenging situation,” says Dr. Wheeler.

Also challenging: the stigma surrounding mental illness.

“Many other illnesses, people are allowed to talk about them and are accepted for that and even supported in that. Mental health tends to result in people being stigmatized, it tends to be looked upon as a moral failing,” says Carol King, Central Wyoming Counseling Center Director of Logistics.

Which means many go undiagnosed until it may be too late.

“What you may see is PTSD, you may see depression, you may see some type of personality disorder that had it have been addressed sooner, that tragedy could've been affected,” says King.

But others say it's not always right to correlate mental illness and mass shootings.

“So, it certainly makes sense as a hypothesis that mental illness may be playing a role, however, if and when you do a statistical analysis, the vast majority of mass shootings that are committed in the United States are done by people who are found not to be insane and not to have significant mental illnesses,” says Dr. Wheeler.

And with a lack of research... We may never have an answer.

“I don't think we're ever going to end it [stigma], I think what we can do is not stand for it. So speak up when you observe it, stick up for those people that are not able to stick up for themselves,” says Dr. Wheeler.

Doctor Wheeler says neurologists can now detect actual physical and chemical changes in the brain of a patient suffering from a mental illness.