According to President Donald Trump, the tragic Texas church shooting that left 26 people dead was “a mental health problem at the highest level.”
If you ask mental health researchers, such mass shootings are much more complicated than that.
On Sunday, 26-year-old Devin Kelley sprayed bullets across the sanctuary of First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, about 30 miles east of San Antonio. The youngest killed at the church was 17 months old; the oldest was 77 years old.
“We have a lot of mental health problems in our country, as do other countries, but this isn’t a guns situation,” Trump said during a joint news conference Monday in Tokyo.
“This is a mental health problem at the highest level,” he said. “It’s a very, very sad event.”
Trump’s response to the Texas church shooting echoed previous comments he has made on gun violence. In 2015, Trump said he was opposed to tightening gun laws in the United States but was in favor of addressing mental health to prevent shootings.
Yet various epidemiological studies over the past two decades show that the vast majority of people with severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or severe depression, are no more likely to be violent than anyone else.
Rather, people with severe mental illnesses are more than 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population. And, only about 3% to 5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.
But those statistics have “almost nothing to do with mass casualty shootings,” said Jeffrey Swanson, a professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University who specializes in gun violence and mental illness.
So exactly how are mental health and gun violence intertwined, and what is needed to end the violence?
Gun violence and mental illness are public health problems “that intersect at the edges” but have very little overlap, Swanson told CNN last year.