What Role Does Serious Mental Illness Play in Mass Shootings and How Should We Address It?

A popular explanation for mass shootings is that the assailant “must’ve been mentally ill.”  A popular policy solution is exceptionalist- enter more gun-disqualifying psychiatric records into the background check system to keep guns away from identified people with mental illness.  We synthesized research on the connection between mental illness and common violence, gun violence, homicide, and mass violence. We focused on serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression, which are not the same as emotional distress from life circumstances and problematic personality traits.  We found there is an association between serious mental illness and violence—but it is weaker than the public imagines or the media portrays; and rarely causal.  Serious mental illness plays a limited role—it is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for mass violence.