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Here's Why We Need To Stop Blaming Mass Killings On Mental Illness

We shouldn't wait for a tragedy to fix the system.

In the wake of a mass shooting, the floodgates of speculation around the killer's mental health are immediately opened. We see the same kinds of questions asked time and again about the killer's "stability," their social habits and "mental health problems."

But experts are weighing in on what they say is an inaccurate -- and unfair -- connection between mental health and mass killings. "Most people who suffer from mental illness are not violent, and most violent acts are committed by people who are not mentally ill," Dr. Renee Binder, president of the American Psychiatric Association, told the Associated Press.

"If you look at that large pool of people, only a tiny proportion of them will eventually commit violence," she added. "How are you going to identify them? It's like a needle in a haystack."

Jeffrey Swanson, a professor of psychiatry at Duke University School of Medicine, echoed the sentiments of Dr. Binder. "We're trying to debunk the stigma that people in the mental health system are dangerous, and yet refocus attention to how do we improve the system," he told the AP. "That's the conversation we're stuck with and we need to use it to educate the public that the vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent."

Prof. Swanson added that mental health shouldn't be a fleeting conversation -- that is, it shouldn't only be talked about when there's a mass shooting or act of violence: "When do we pay attention to this? We pay attention when there's a horrifying mass casualty shooting, and then people say: Let's fix the system."