A leading psychiatrist claims that personality disorders cause mass shootings. He attempts to break the stigmas surrounding mental health to aid in preventing these massacres and providing better treatment options to patients with psychiatric conditions. The psychiatrist’s statements may fuel the controversial debate that individuals carrying out this act are not “evil” but rather suffer from legitimate disorders inhibiting decision-making abilities.
According to the Oakland Press, the Oakland Public Service Committee recently hosted a public hearing with physicians and social workers to contemplate enhanced methods for preventing mass shootings. Psychiatrist Dr. Theodore Ruza provided substantial input that many of the perpetrators who have carried them out suffer from personality disorders. Dr. Ruza believes that differentiating between such disorders and other mental illnesses is a significant step for breaking stigmas surrounding psychiatric patients and evaluating violent crime in the U.S.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, those suffering from personality disorders display selfish and manipulative behaviors, poor impulse control, and lack of empathy. The condition is believed to arise from a combination of genetic abnormalities or past trauma, such as physical or sexual abuse. Personality disorders differ from other mental illnesses in that their symptoms are directly linked to mass shootings; since one must feel a complete lack of concern for the well being of others to carry out such an attack, as noted by Dr. Ruza. According to a survey by the Washington Post, however, 63% of Americans believe that inadequately identifying and treating those with mental health disorders are the greatest factors contributing to multiple person shootings in the U.S. Dr. Ruza argues:
About one percent or less of those that commit these crimes have a psychiatric diagnosis. Mental health does not mean that you’re at-risk for mass shootings or suicide. What pre-disposes you to a mass shooting are personality disorders like narcissistic personality, paranoid personality, and anti-social personality.
Evidence supports Dr. Ruza’s claims. Liberty Nation reports that individuals with personality disorders account for approximately 20% of inmates in the U.S. In contrast, those with other mental illnesses commit only 3-5% of all violent crimes in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Despite the evidence, stigmas still surround those with psychiatric disorders. One recent example comes from British physiatrist and professor, Dr. Clare Allely, who wrongly suggested that those on the autism spectrum are at an increased risk of becoming radicalized and carrying out terror attacks, as reported by Liberty Nation. Unfounded claims by so-called scientists inflame harmful stereotypes and have caused some to treat mental health patients with skepticism and avoidance.
The public hearing by the Oakland Public Service Committee may also spark arguments on whether mass shooters are “evil,” as many media headlines imply. As controversially argued by neuroscientist David Eagleman in his renowned book The Brain: The Story of You, many researchers believe that offenders doing this may not have a choice over the attack, as personality disorders typically entail neurophysiological abnormalities contributing to their behaviors. For this reason, Eagleman argues that in addition to imprisonment, violent criminals with the disorder should receive rehabilitation via evidenced based treatment methods. Such recovery methods may also cut expensive prison costs, as criminals may spend less time behind bars following therapy. In fact, as noted in the book The Science of Evil, psychopathologist Simon Baron-Cohen explains that patients with personality disorders do not “learn to fear punishment,” causing prison sentences to be virtually useless in deterring such individuals from recommitting violent acts.
Patients with personality disorders are at a heightened risk of committing mass shootings. Through recognizing early warning signs to treat the condition quickly, instances of violent acts may significantly decrease. Moreover, the debate over whether the actions of those committing these acts are voluntary or caused by neural abnormalities may influence future laws and punishments to include evidence-based rehabilitation techniques. Implications of such methods hint at the possibility of some violent criminals one day normalizing and contributing to society.