Is There A Link Between Gun Violence And Mental Health?

By Lindsey Weedston 02/18/19
A new study found that a history of mental illness had no significant association with gun violence.

A study by the University of Texas found that access to firearms, high hostility levels, and impulsiveness made people more likely to engage in gun violence, while mental illness did not.

The study appears to have been motivated by a “public, political, and media narrative that mental health is at the root of gun violence,” and the results look to have soundly debunked that narrative which some have worried will increase stigma against those with psychological disorders.

Dr. Yu Lu and Dr. Jeff R. Temple interviewed 663 “emerging adults” and found that those with access to firearms were 18.15 times more likely to have threatened someone with a gun in their lifetimes than those without. While this might seem like a predictable result, they also found that a history of mental illness had no significant association with gun violence or carrying a gun in public.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Additionally, people who were found to have “high hostility” were 3.51 times more likely to have threatened someone with a firearm, and those with high impulsivity were 1.91 times more likely than others to have carried a gun outside of the home.

The psychological disorders named in the study included depression, anxiety, PTSD, and borderline personality disorder. They also included stress, impulsivity, and hostility as symptoms of mental health issues, but Lu and Temple still concluded that it is access to firearms, including gun ownership or other access, that creates the primary risk for violence.

“Counter to public beliefs, the majority of mental health symptoms examined were not related to gun violence. Instead, access to firearms was the primary culprit,” they wrote. “The findings have important implications for gun control policy efforts.”

Gun violence in the U.S. continues to be a major problem, accounting for an average of 30,000 to 40,000 deaths each year. Depending on the definition of mass shooting, by some accounts there was a mass shooting in the U.S. nearly every day in 2018.

When a shooting is severe enough to make it into national news, the issue of whether gun violence is caused by a lack of gun control or by mental illness is often raised.

The University of Texas study describes this as a question of “dangerous people” versus “dangerous weapon.” Lu and Temple point out that research on links between mental illness and gun violence is lacking and often limited to those with severe disorders or mentally ill individuals who have already been arrested for violent crime.

This may have been the first study in the U.S. to look at “the temporal association between gun violence and mental health symptoms,” according to the study’s conclusion. Lu and Temple also noted that the sample size, the focus on emerging adults, and the inclusion of only some of the many psychological disorders and related symptoms were possible limitations for this study.

As always, further research into the issue of gun violence in the U.S. will provide greater insights into the likely causes of this growing problem.

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Lindsey Weedston is a Seattle area writer focused on mental health and addiction, politics, human rights, and various social issues. Her work has appeared in The Establishment, Ravishly, ThinkProgress, Little Things, Yes! Magazine, and others. You can find her daily writings at Twitter: