'Dehumanising remarks' – Irish psychologists challenge Trump's claim that mental illness sole factor in gun violence

IRISH psychologists have challenged Donald Trump’s claim identifying “mental illness” as the sole factor in gun violence.

Contrary to the US President’s recent remarks linking gun violence with mental illness, the association between mental illness and violence is weak, the Psychological Society of Ireland (PSI) said today.

When asked by a reporter what executive actions he might be prepared to take on guns and gun control, President Trump responded by identifying “mental illness” as effectively the sole factor in gun violence.

President Trump went on to suggest that the closure of mental institutions in the 1960s and 1970s was also an issue that needed to be revisited.

“He stated that [the US] ‘needs to start building institutions again that these people went out on to the streets and ‘that was a terrible thing’,” said the statement.

The PSI said feels it is incumbent on the society, and other bodies representing those with expertise on mental health and illness, to address these points.

It said that taken in isolation, it is not at all predictive of violent behaviour.

“Indeed, those with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violent crime than perpetrators of it. In a context of alleged fake news being disseminated, it is important to iterate some facts.

“The United States has 5pc of the world’s population but 30pc of the world’s mass shootings. Compared to 22 other high-income nations, the gun-related murder rate in the US is 25 times higher.”

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It said that mass shootings by people with serious mental illness represent less than 1 per cent of all yearly gun-related homicides in the US.

Furthermore, many countries experience comparable rates of mental health problems and psychiatric diagnoses, without the level of gun violence that currently plagues American society.

In July 2019, after the 245th mass shooting in its country since the beginning of the year, the US Secret Service released a report on mass public attacks, finding that “no single profile” can be used “to predict who will engage in targeted violence” adding that “mental illness, alone, is not a risk factor.” Various research studies, using the scientific paradigm, have tried to determine what factors predict violent behaviour.

While a mental diagnosis is relevant, often it is factors relating to family and social history, social support profile, early experiences of trauma and/or violence, recent stressors, substance abuse patterns, the precise nature of the symptoms, a past history of violence, and indeed access to means, that inform this risk assessment.

This last factor is particularly important, as data from 171 countries suggests that the global distribution of public mass shooters is somewhat attributable to differences between countries in relation to firearms availability, it said.

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PSI President Ian O’Grady states: “Whilst I welcome the US President publicly discussing the important topic of ‘mental illness’, I very much regret that he misrepresented, so badly, the issue of gun violence in US society. In deflecting from the evidence-based causes of American gun violence, President Trump appears to have scapegoated an entire vulnerable section of society, many of whom our Society’s members work with on a day-to-day basis.

“He has stigmatised all of those living with a mental health diagnosis, made dehumanising remarks, and called for a return to redundant and antiquated practices that are anathema to the recovery-led models of care we have today, in the treatment of those with mental disorders.”

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