Did the media get it wrong on mentally ill shooters?

Candlelight vigil (Photo: Reuters)

Candlelight vigil (Photo: Reuters)

A study released this week found disproportion in the media’s reporting on mentally ill shooters, leading many to believe they pose a bigger threat to others, rather than to themselves like the research suggests.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University collected and analyzed some 400 articles and TV news segments published by CNN, the New York Times and the Washington Post on the subject of mental illness between 1995 and 2014 and found that more of them — 38 percent — were about the mentally ill hurting other people, while only 29 percent focused on them hurting themselves, The Trace reported.

Of the 105 Americans who commit suicide, more than 90 percent of them have a diagnosable mental health disorder, according to the Washington University School of Social Work, as reported by the Trace. And while another study attributes only 4 percent of U.S. violence to those diagnosed with mental illness, yet another claims more than 18 percent of Americans have some form of mental illness and 4 percent suffer an affliction to the point it disrupts their day-to-day life.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. and  accounts for more than two-thirds of gun deaths.

So why is the revelation that the media has been focusing more on violent mental illness occurrences when only a fraction of those suffering from an affliction are carried out by them?

“I think it’s become such a part of public dialogue that serious mental illness always plays a role in this kind of violence that it has become an assumption among the public,” lead researcher Dr. Emma McGinty told the website.

And it’s not mental illness itself, but other factors – like unemployment, drug or alcohol dependency, a history of suffering physical or mental abuse – that likely trigger violence in a person with a psychological condition, according to a  2009 study, as reported by The Trace.

Politically, the findings run counter to what the National Rifle Association, the rest of the gun lobby  and even the general public hold.

Last year, the NRA highlighted a Washington Post survey which found that 63 percent of Americans blame mental health and not guns for mass shootings.

But that just isn’t the case, said Jeffrey Swanson, a professor of psychiatry at Duke University, as reported by the Atlantic.

“We have a strong responsibility as researchers who study mental illness to try to debunk that myth,” Swanson said. “I say as loudly and as strongly and as frequently as I can, that mental illness is not a very big part of the problem of gun violence in the United States.”

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