A narrative often used in the wake of a mass shooter incident these days is one which suggests these crimes are taking place because of a mental illness crisis in America. These young men are victims of mental health who act out on the psychotic impulses of their bipolar or schizophrenic condition with unmentionable violence. If society wants to solve these mass shootings, so goes the argument, it must address the issue of mental health first and gun control, if need be, later.
While politicians have been successful so far in spreading this definition of mass shooters, Dick Greenbaum, with some four decades behind him as a Talbot County public school psychologist and later in private practice, wants to correct this mischaracterization.
Citing numerous research on mass shooters, Greenbaum notes that only 4% have a significant, diagnosable mental disorder before the crime. The typical shooter is instead socially isolated, lacks interpersonal skills, is neglected at home or bullied at school, and often feels mistreated or undervalued. Those factors can lead to depression but not a diagnosable psychosis.
Dick Greenbaum suggests that these young men, fueled by revenge fantasies, seek validation, gain access to weapons, and act out violently to gain notoriety. Their actions are not rooted in mental illness but in a complex mix of social factors, personal grievances, and harmful cultural influences like video games and social media.
While the answers to stop mass shootings remain challenging, Dick believes it’s essential to understand more clearly who these young men are before we can ever hope to end this violent behavior. He came by the Spy Studio last month to talk more about the mind of a mass shooter.
This video is approximately five minutes in length.