Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Gun violence and mental illness: Study addresses perception vs. reality

Date:
June 13, 2014
Source:
University of California - Los Angeles
Summary:
Gun violence in America can be reduced, concludes an international team of scholars who analyzed dozens of studies on gun violence and mental illness. The researchers found that mass murderers with mental health problems, while they receive a tremendous amount of media attention, are not typical of those who commit violent crimes, and the vast majority of those with serious mental illness do not engage in violent acts.

Recent mass killings in Isla Vista, California, and elsewhere have again raised concern among lawmakers and the media about the possible connection between mental illness and gun violence. A new study sets the record straight and recommends an evidence-based approach to limiting firearms fatalities.

A group of international scholars, including co-author Vickie Mays of UCLA, analyzed dozens of epidemiological studies on gun violence and mental illness and compared the results to media-fueled public perceptions about the dangerousness of mentally ill individuals.

The researchers found that mass murderers with mental health problems, while they receive a tremendous amount of media attention, are not typical of those who commit violent crimes, and the vast majority of those with serious mental illness do not engage in violent acts.

Still, the study authors stress, gun violence can be reduced by instituting policies at the federal and state level that prohibit firearms possession among individuals who display clear risk factors for violence.

The new research is published online in the journal Annals of Epidemiology and will be published in an upcoming print edition.

"We need more evidence-based policies to effectively prevent gun violence," said Mays, a professor of psychology and health services who directs the Center for Research, Education, Training and Strategic Communication on Minority Health Disparities in the UCLA College. "We also need to expand mental health services and improve access to treatment -- some people are slipping through the cracks. But mental illness is not the main cause of violence in society. Policies should focus more on limiting access to firearms for people with behavioral risk factors for violence during specific times when there is evidence that risk is elevated."

An evidence-based approach to gun control

A history of violent behavior, especially with criminal justice involvement, and other behavioral indicators of risk are much stronger predictors of future gun violence than having a serious mental health diagnosis, the researchers say, echoing the findings of the Consortium for Risk-Based Firearm Policy, a group of national experts on gun-violence prevention and mental illness that released a set of federal and state policy recommendations in December 2013.

Such risk indicators include being subject to a temporary domestic violence restraining order, having been convicted of a violent misdemeanor, having two or more driving-under-the-influence convictions in a five-year period, and having two or more controlled-substance convictions in five years.

The researchers' analysis supports additional recommendations by the consortium, including the development of state mechanisms allowing law enforcement officers to confiscate guns from individuals who pose an immediate threat to themselves or others, and to request a warrant for the removal of guns when the risk of harm is "credible," if not immediate. In addition, the consortium suggests that family members and intimate partners be able to petition the court to temporarily authorize gun removal and prohibit gun purchases by individuals who pose a credible risk of harm to themselves or others.

On the federal level, the researchers' findings support the consortium's suggestion that the government clarify and refine policies dealing with gun disqualification for individuals who have been involuntary committed for mental health reasons, and state laws should be strengthened to prohibit gun purchases or possession following a short-term involuntary hospitalization. The consortium also recommended a clinically informed judicial process for restoring gun ownership rights following their removal based on evidence of risk of harm.

Those with mental illness far more likely to harm themselves

While improving mental health care in the U.S. is a critical goal, the researchers say, it is important to understand that improving such care will not solve the problem of gun violence in America.

"We do need better mental health care in America. An estimated 3.5 million people with serious mental illnesses are going without treatment every year," said Jeffrey W. Swanson, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Duke University School of Medicine and lead author of the study. "But even if schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression were cured, our society's problem of violence would diminish by only about 4 percent. A person with serious mental illness is far more likely to be a victim of violent crime than a perpetrator.

Mental health disorders are much more strongly linked to self-harm or suicide than to violence against others. A very small proportion of people with serious mental illness pose a threat to others, the researchers stress, and gun violence and mental illness intersect only on their margins, they said.

Approximately six of every 10 gun deaths in the U.S. are suicides, which points to failures in both the mental health care system and firearms regulation, according to the authors.

"The public mental health system in most states is woefully inadequate -- fragmented, overburdened and underfunded," Swanson said. "It shouldn't be harder for a person in a suicidal mental health crisis to get treatment than to get a handgun."

The researchers also note that accurately predicting who will commit mass killings is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Citing a 2012 review of 73 studies on the accuracy of psychiatrists' predictions of violent behavior in their patients, they said that prospective risk-assessment by mental health professionals is only slightly more accurate than flipping a coin.

Some states already authorize law enforcement agents to temporarily remove guns from homes in the case of domestic violence, say the researchers, who urge Congress and the states to take sensible steps to reduce gun violence.

"The right to bear arms is not unlimited and must be balanced with public safety concerns," said Mays. "Our project was about using data to inform policies that will be most effective in reducing firearm-related injury and mortality, while respecting the rights of lawful gun owners.

"We're asking, can we step back and use the best data to help rein this problem in?"

"In the current environment, where guns have become a radioactive political symbol, one can only hope that a risk-based approach to limiting firearms would emerge as at least one square inch of common real estate between those who are most concerned with the individual right to bear arms and those inclined toward greater regulation of guns in the public interest," Swanson said. "We desperately need a place to start."

Mays initially organized the team for this study as part of the American College of Epidemiology's policy case study series.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California - Los Angeles. The original article was written by Stuart Wolpert. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Jeffrey W. Swanson, E. Elizabeth McGinty, Seena Fazel, Vickie M. Mays. Mental illness and reduction of gun violence and suicide: bringing epidemiologic research to policy. Annals of Epidemiology, 2014; DOI: 10.1016/j.annepidem.2014.03.004

Cite This Page:

University of California - Los Angeles. "Gun violence and mental illness: Study addresses perception vs. reality." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 June 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140613101703.htm>.
University of California - Los Angeles. (2014, June 13). Gun violence and mental illness: Study addresses perception vs. reality. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140613101703.htm
University of California - Los Angeles. "Gun violence and mental illness: Study addresses perception vs. reality." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140613101703.htm (accessed August 30, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Young Entrepreneurs Get $100,000, If They Quit School

Young Entrepreneurs Get $100,000, If They Quit School

AFP (Aug. 29, 2014) Twenty college-age students are getting 100,000 dollars from a Silicon Valley leader and a chance to live in San Francisco in order to work on the start-up project of their dreams, but they have to quit school first. Duration: 02:20 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Baby Babbling Might Lead To Faster Language Development

Baby Babbling Might Lead To Faster Language Development

Newsy (Aug. 29, 2014) A new study suggests babies develop language skills more quickly if their parents imitate the babies' sounds and expressions and talk to them often. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Electrical Stimulation Boosts Brain Function, Study Says

Electrical Stimulation Boosts Brain Function, Study Says

Newsy (Aug. 29, 2014) Researchers found an improvement in memory and learning function in subjects who received electric pulses to their brains. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Treadmill 'trips' May Reduce Falls for Elderly

Treadmill 'trips' May Reduce Falls for Elderly

AP (Aug. 28, 2014) Scientists are tripping the elderly on purpose in a Chicago lab in an effort to better prevent seniors from falling and injuring themselves in real life. (Aug.28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins