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The high-profile mass killings in Newtown, Aurora, Tucson and elsewhere have raised two questions:

  • Are such killings increasing;
  • What proportion of them are attributable to persons with severe mental illnesses?

mass_killings_graphThree studies over the last 15 years indicate that rampage killings are becoming more common and that untreated severe mental illness is associated with about half of them, according to a summary by Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, founder of the Treatment Advocacy Center. 

  • A 1999 University of North Texas study identified 30 mass killings for which extensive information was available. Even though the killings took place over a 50-year period, 70% took place in the 22 years before the study was conducted. Twenty of the 30 perpetrators had definite or probable psychosis. 
  • A 2000 New York Times survey of 100 “rampage killers” who committed mass killings between 1949 and 1999 found that 73 occurred in the nine years before the newspaper conducted its study. Half the killers had histories of serious mental illness.  
  • A 2012 Mother Jones survey found that nearly half of the mass shootings from 1982-2012 (29 of 62) took place in the most recent nine years. Seven of the killlings took place in 2012 alone. The authors made no attempt to obtain extensive psychiatric data but reported that “a majority (of the shooters) were mentally ill.”

For the complete summary, read “Are Mass Killings Increasing?”  

At the Treatment Advocacy Center, we talk about the connection between violence and mental illness because we believe the way to reduce stigma is to make sure that people with untreated psychiatric disease get the timely and effective treatment needed to prevent tragedy. For more information, read our backgrounder, "Stigma: Violence by seriously mentally ill persons is its major cause."

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