Are mass-murderers just misunderstood, or misdiagnosed?

This is something I’ve personally been in hot water for on the BBS - the language around mental health and mass shooters.

I understand neurodiversity is something we should celebrate - having a child with ADHD and anxiety.

Is it fair to assume mass murderers by definition have some kind of psychological problem that would exacerbate violent tendencies? What’s the responsible way to describe this (which also won’t get my post removed?


No. Because violent selfishness and poor impulse control aren’t diagnoses. Again, people with mental illness are more often victims of violence than perpetrators.


Having a better than average understanding of the DSM-5 (but far less than a qualified medical doctor), I would say that it is not helpful.

Besides, if we start looking at psychological illnesses, then we should also look at physiological illnesses too. Should we also assume that mass shooters have brain tumours or brain damage from strokes? Should we be having debates about the state of their endocrine system at the time of the shooting?

No, we should not. Prove the illness exists first, then we can talk about it.


No - it isn’t. It makes us more comfortable to make that assumption because we don’t want to believe that people can be socialized to be violent and be pretty much just like us.

But our problems are cultural. We don’t see them happening elsewhere. People mostly aren’t found to have mental illnesses when arrested. We have all lot of under and poorly socialized men. They’re able to be purposely indoctrinated by elements of our culture about the value of certain lives, about the actions that are called for to address the people they’re told are causing them existential threats who aren’t. And encouraged to take those actions. They’re able to be isolated from other influences and experiences by the nature of social media which reinforces these messages and provides them a subculture to belong to. And then there’s messaging to prime them to stochastic violence.

Right now look at the calls to violence against LGBT people- and magically it starts happening- just yesterday.

It wasn’t long ago that a majority of this country thought it was right to enslave people. To whip and rape them. To beat their wives with a rod and rape them. To marry off 12 year olds. That capital punishment was appropriate for “the crime” of being gay.

The culture was sick. The culture is sick. And yes there are sociopaths- but they’re the people trying to change our culture to become sicker. Your Bannon’s, your Milker’s and especially the people who fund them. But they sit back and watch what they’ve wrought - until it’s safe to do otherwise.

There’s just no evidence these people are mentally ill. And that’s really frightening.


It reminds me of that YouTube video where the attending for Psychology flames the emergency medicine attending signing out for marking an ‘altered mental state’ or such, and pins it by guessing they ordered a B4 IV and an…SMR? (Serum metabolism, renal?)

eta: Looking for the workup of this one more than the others. Neurons want to be free to be right now and then. We’ll get a few seed governances in a few states, of Departments that make sure Young Men get redirected to makeover steps that help them hate on whatever with fewer complete semiautomatic rifles. Dippity Do For Peace. Dreadlocking for the Killchain.


No. It’s not any fairer or more accurate to assume that than to assume that male-perpetrators of domestic violence against female partners all have psychological problems. Misogyny, like other kinds of hatred, is a cultural phenomenon. Guns are part of the culture. Violence is part of the culture. For very few people will that turn into violent acts but the difference there isn’t mostly psychological problems like mental illness, neuroatypicalities, or intellectual disabilities. I’d wager that incomplete brain development in youth could be a contributing factor.

We see these violent acts mostly done by young men. Why are young women not also perpetrating these crimes?


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Those folks aren’t mentally unstable, in most cases most of the time; they are just horrible fucking people who actively make bad choices.


I’ll certainly apologize for by glibness about Herschel walker. I’ve seen so many CRT references to him, I thought he was diagnosed…

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Next up: Are serial rapists just misunderstood, or misdiagnosed?

[spoiler: also no]


That they’re almost all men. Mostly white men. And that the rise in violence is motivated by racism, misogyny and hatred of different religions and LGBT peeps.


“have some kind of psychological problem”

This used to throw me too. But the more I think of it almost everyone actually has some kind of psychological problem, if not currently affecting them, then in their past. And anyone can develop one of varying severity any time.

So why point it out so much only for quite literally the most contemptible digusting vile humans we have in our society in discourse?
Why assume something so common is the root cause of anything?

We also never do the same with positive traits. There are a lot of examples of artists with mental illness and their suffering is greatly explored but their creativity and sucess is almost never credited to their mental illness the way their hardships and shortcomings are.

Which is … Inaccurate.

I dunno.

Do we need better social support for humans? Yeah… But so long as having a mental health problem makes you a potential school shooter in everyone’s eyes it’s going to be that much harder.


It is comforting to think that no sane person could possibly do something like this.

But the scary reality is that perfectly sane people can and do turn into monsters all the time.


Mass murderers (and all other violent criminals) may have mental illness. But that mental illness is not why they killed or hurt people. Some very rare cases, like the UT Austin tower mass shooter, were shown in autopsy to have a brain tumor. It is assumed that brain tumor contributed to his decision to go shoot people on campus for hours. But that is an assumption. It cannot be known.

In the meantime, there are literally millions of people with mental illness who don’t hurt other people. Like me. We already have enough stigma without adding to the pile and calling mass murderers mentally ill certainly adds to that pile.

Is there something wrong with mass murderers? Yes. But it isn’t mental illness and we need to stop saying that. It comforts people to think “yeah, that guy who murdered 19 children is crazy.” So they can feel like a normal person wouldn’t do that. But while mass murderers may have mental illnesses, it is not why they did what they did. It is not an excuse or even a reason. Saying that absolves them of the responsibility for their actions while also making the lives of people with mental illness that much harder.


Oh also the more I thought about it the more I realized that it’s lazy and dangerous in some ways. It lets us shift the way we think about protecting ourselves from murderers around weeding out anyone who falls into whatever the current definitions is “crazy” happens to be.

Because it has some actionable trajectory that probably lines up with people hating those they may already dislike in their lives it then keeps people from exploring other significant factors. Misogyny, for instance, is not a mental illness but definitely has a relationship with mass shooters.

Yet it isn’t so easily accepted as “mental illness” as a cause for violence, even though it absolutlely undeniably is a tremendous cause of violence.


As a parent of a develpmentally disabled person, I’ll agree to your statment about victims vs perpetrators. I’ll point out though, that we here are not doctors, and not making diagnoses. And we are not in a court of law making judgements of fact. We are an ostensibly public forum, voicing opinions.

For the audience here, I’ll venture that “All persons with mental illness are not dangerously violent.”, is a given? If you want people to agree to the (presumed? demanded?) corrolary of, “All violently dangerous people are not mentally ill.”, then I think you have to give us some other language than, “Stalin/Hitler/Manson/and this latest %*/!& with an AR-15 are assholes.”, with which to wrap our brains around the horror.

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In the United States, there is a mental health crisis and there is a gun violence crisis. As these two crises are so expansive, there are bound to be cases in which they overlap. That said, they are two completely separate crises with wholly unrelated causes. Solving one would not solve the other.

Some violently dangerous people are mentally ill and many are not. People who perpetrate violence against others are assholes, full stop. People who have mental illnesses may or may not be assholes, but they are not assholes (or not) because of mental illness. To avoid stigmatizing mental illness in general while also not excusing horrible actions on account of mental illness, we need to understand that people are individuals, regardless of whether or not they have a mental illness.


This is a dangerous line of thinking.

It’s understandable, from a psychological perspective, why we would want language that would have a simple explanatory power, in order to grasp it, but it is an impulse we should try to avoid to the best of our abilities.

We need to understand that no matter what we call it, madness, evil or just being an asshole there is no single thread, that connects the perpetrators, never mind one that can give a reason to it.

The danger comes from two things.

Firstly in seeking a single, simple factor, we blind ourselves to the complexity of what goes on, we put our need for an explanation first, thus shutting down the chance of really looking at it, which, of necessity must always be an unfinished process, aware of the contingencies of each example.

Secondly we do so as a form of psychological othering: we look for something that definitively sets the perpetrators apart, in order to reassure ourselves it couldn’t possible be us.

But all of history tells us that we are not isolated individuals set apart form the world, but actors always in thrall to circumstance. It is precisely the belief that we are inherently good that allows people to perpetuate acts of mass murder in the right circumstances. The urgency of the history of the Holocaust has been to show how people can be swept up in their circumstances to perpetuate evil unless they are engaged in an active process of questioning and self-examination.

This is a well studied area. I would recommend Christopher Browning’s book Ordinary Men. It’s a relatively short work (for books in ths area). It examines the history of Reserve Police Battalion 101. A group of ordinary middle aged German men, reserve police men who were ordered to liquidate a Jewish village in 1942. Despite the fact that most of them had never fired a gun before they happily did so for the most part, only between 10 to 20% tried to avoid doing so. This group of 500 men went on to be directly responsible for something like 38,000 murders and transported 45,000 more people to the death camps.


Nope. That’s explicitly against the Community Guidelines, and for good reason. First and foremost, it stigmatizes mental illness. When people don’t seek care for mental illness, many die. It’s a cultural problem that costs lives. Second, it lets mass shooters off the hook. They are culpable for their actions and blaming mental illness both releases them from that responsibility and misdirects public policy.

There’s a reason the gunwanker politicians blame mental illness: it means they don’t actually have to do anything about the problems of firearm availability and gun culture in the US. Stop giving them that out.


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