Sadly, the names of recent mass murderers have become a list so long that it is hard to recall those from even just a year ago. When attempting to plot the locations of each horrendous mass execution on a US map, it becomes clear that the problem has taken on epidemic proportions. Americans are murdering each other at an alarming rate, and the majority of the murders happen to be white young men.
When considering gun violence in young men we are left grasping to find the reasons why. Why would a young adult male, just as he is entering adulthood, chose to perpetrate just a heinous crime? What could possibly be the motive behind the exploding rates of gun violence in young men?
Theories abound. The young adult men are disenfranchised. They suffer from mental illness. They were bullied. They identified as white nationalist. They discriminated against transgender individuals. They had a history of treatment with a psychotropic drug. They had anger issues. They played violent video games. The list of potential motivations continued to grow unabated. As we struggle to make sense of these violent acts, one thing has become clear, that something is very wrong with our young men.
Let’s explore these issues, one by one.
- Feeling disenfranchised. One of the common threads that seem to run through the profiles of each mass shooter is the appearance of being unpopular; they felt disempowered or disenfranchised among their peers. These feelings may have been articulated by the shooter himself through a written letter or social media post, or conveyed by former classmates or acquaintances in interviews after the fact. The young men may have been lonely with few social interactions outside of social media, where they would find others who could relate to their misery. Many of these individuals were considered outcasts in school, asocial, or just odd.
- They had mental illness. It is difficult to challenge the assumption that the gun violence in young men is fueled by mental illness. After all, who in their right mind would make such a plan and then carry it out? It would seem that only someone who is mentally disturbed would ever go through with a mass shooting of innocent civilians. In fact, the profiles that emerge of many of the young shooters indeed points to emotional instability, whether that is a diagnosable mental health disorder remains unclear. Antisocial personality disorder is characterized by a lack of empathy, social isolation, lack of regard for right and wrong, poor relationship skills, and unnecessary risk-taking or dangerous behavior with no regard for the rights or safety of others.
- They were bullied. Being bullied is a very real problem for many young people of both genders; a phenomenon perpetuated now even more through the use of social media shaming. Being rejected by one’s peers can lead to an increase in depression or anxiety, as well as aggression, possibly as an outlet for the pain experienced due to the bullying. With school shootings in particular, lashing out in a violent act may be a matter of attempting to get even with classmates who had ostracized them.
- They identify as white nationalist. A disturbing trend seems to be developing world wide, as a growing number of mass shooters identify with nationalist motivations or as white nationalists. Whether it is an Islamic radical perpetrating an act of horror in France, Yemen, Germany, or here in the US, or a domestic assault that is backed by a screed or manifesto outlining radical white supremacist views, it seems these individuals gather momentum and inspiration from like-minded people on such fringe online forums as 8chan. The shooter of the most recent massacre in El Paso, Texas apparently associated with fellow nationalists on this site.
- They discriminate against transgender community. The Orlando mass shooting in 2016, in which 100 individuals in a gay nightclub were mown down by gunfire, including 49 deaths, is just one example of the anti-gay sentiment sometimes expressed by mass shooters. In fact, the Dayton, Ohio shooter murdered his sister, who identified as a male. A young black man, age 18, allegedly targeted gay men and a transgender woman in his shooting spree this May. Gender discrimination is just another offshoot of the general category of hate crimes that are sometimes at the root of the motivation to murder others.
- Psychotropic drugs. One theory posited in recent years as a common denominator in the gun violence in young men involves a history of prescription psychotropic drug therapy. The use of psychiatric medications in childhood is being clinically studied on an ongoing basis to determine long-term effects. Adam Lanza, the 2013 Sandy Hook shooter, had reportedly recently stopped his medications, and the Columbine shooters, Klebold and Harris, also had a history of psych meds. While not established by the scientific community that psychotropic medications may cause violent tendencies, it has been established that antidepressants can induce suicidal thoughts in teens and young adults, and many of these young shooters do wind up committing suicide.
- They have anger issues. In the case of Connor Betts, the Dayton shooter, he had a history of using violent, harsh rhetoric regarding fellow classmates, including outlining a “rape list” for certain girls and a “kill list for boys. Domestic violence, another outlet for rage, is also implicated in the mass shooter’s profiles. The shooter at the church in Texas, 26 year-old Devin Kelley, had a history of domestic abuse. Misogyny, or the hatred of women, is yet another form of anger that can play a part in mass shootings.
- They play violent video games. Increasingly, experts studying mass shootings are looking at the possible effects of violent video games on psychological health. The “first person shooter,” or FPS genre of games feature the player as a marauding murderer, although often under the guise of a military hero or vigilante style anti-hero. It is concerning that kids who spend hours each week playing such games might become desensitized to violence, or may even begin to adapt the mindset of the characters they play in these games. However, the connection is most likely not causal, but may be a matter of an antisocial kid being drawn to these games, which might later spark the motivation to live out their frustrations or emotional issues through violence.
How to Identify Mental Health Disorders in Young Men
While the public grasps for possible explanations that might shed light on the root cause of the spike of gun violence in young men, a growing awareness about mental health is the takeaway. Regardless of the specific motivator for violence, it is becoming increasingly clear that depression, anxiety, and mood disorders may be on the rise.
No matter the gender, it is important to get help for a teen that exhibits signs of mental distress sooner rather than later. Early intervention is always better in the long run. So, how does a parent or teacher know when a young person is at risk? What are the red flags of an impending mental health crisis?
- Loss of interest in usual activities or hobbies
- Feelings of sadness, despair, hopelessness
- Sleep problems
- Sudden weight loss or weight gain
- Slowed movements
- Difficulty concentrating or remember things
- Inappropriate feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Suicidal thoughts
Signs of Anxiety Disorder:
- Excessive worry or fear out of proportion to the situation
- Mood swings
- Pronounced irritability
- Trembling, shaking
- Chest pain
- Shallow breathing
- Increased heart rate
Signs of Bipolar disorder:
- Extreme mood shifts between mania and depression
- Engaging in high-risk behaviors
- Substance abuse
Signs of Antisocial Personality Disorder:
- Lack of empathy
- Aggressive or violent behavior
- Manipulative behaviors
- Lack of remorse when causing harm to others
- Disregard for rules or authority
Signs of a Psychiatric Emergency
When symptoms of a mental health disorder deteriorate further, causing an escalation in severity, it is essential that a mental health provider, usually in a hospital or residential mental health care center, thoroughly evaluate the individual. A psychiatric emergency has developed with the individual risks causing harm to themselves or others. A hospital setting is best for acute stabilization of a psychiatric emergency.
Signs of a psychiatric emergency include:
- Serious impairment in daily functioning
- Social withdrawal, isolation
- Serious interpersonal problems develop
- Acting out, disruptive behaviors
- Neglect of personal hygiene
- Self-harming behaviors when serious bodily harm results
- Violent behavior towards others
- Suicidal threats or attempts
Residential mental health programs are an appropriate setting for individuals whose mental health has declined to the point where they may engage in aggressive or violent acts if left unsupervised. A residential setting provides constant monitoring and support, as well as more intensive, customized care.
When a parent, coworker, teacher, or friend recognizes the red flag warnings of an impending mental health crisis, it is imperative to get the individual the care they need before it results in a tragedy, such as a mass shooting.
The Treatment Specialist Offers Information and Guidance for Mental Health Disorders
An online resource, such as The Treatment Specialist, is valuable when someone is in need of speedy information regarding unusual signs of mental distress. The specialists are knowledgeable and experienced in the mental health field and can offer timely information and assistance at no charge. This digital catalogue of mental health disorders, substance use disorders, and dual diagnosis can help guide someone toward the appropriate source of help. Call The Treatment Specialist today at (866) 644-7911.