Behavioral issues may be the thing to look for when there’s a mass shooting

When I started writing this article, I was focusing on mental health and how it relates to some devastations within the country; however, after an interview I conducted for this column, I now have a whole new outlook on this topic.

During this interview, Laramie County Community College psychology instructor, John Sanford, said that mental health is not to blame for these horrific events.

“Mental health isn’t the issue,” Sanford said.

At first, I was in awe because what else could be the issue other than guns?

“Mentally ill people own guns, just like people without mental issues, and 50 percent of the population will have a mental disorder sometime in their life,” Sanford said. “Does that make them dangerous, no not even a little bit.”

Then, as the conversation went on, my perspective changed. Yes, mental health is an issue in this country; however, when I blame incidents like mass murders on mental health issues as a whole, I offend a whole population of people who have different mental health issues.

Mental health includes a whole slew of disorders such as anxiety disorders, eating disorders, substance abuse disorders, as well as many other disorders.

According to, approximately 43 million people in the United States have a mental health condition.

“The best thing we could do is destigmatize mental illness,” Sanford said.  

As I blame mental health for the cause of the issue, I am stereotyping everyone that has a mental health issue as “crazy” and capable of causing other devastations like the last shooting that occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Now, this isn’t saying that mental health issues aren’t a factor in some of these situations; however, there are many other causes that lead up to someone acting out in such a way.

“There’s a small percentage of mentally ill people that will engage in violent behavior and not everybody that engages in violent behavior has a psychological disorder,” Sanford said.  

I wanted to focus on mental health because in some cases, the perpetrator has had some mental illness and I think it is a huge problem that we as a country need to start focusing on more.

After this interview, I looked more into what could be the cause of terrible events. Some people have a terrible home life and a hard life at school, and eventually may even become isolated.

Isolation leads to other habits. Individuals who become isolated often find other ways to take out anger and disgust.

“The more isolated a person is, that is when they are at the greatest risk of

engaging in bad behavior, regardless of their mental health,” Sanford said. “The more isolated they are, the fewer resources they have at their disposal.”

Sanford said that if they are isolated and begin to act violent, that is when they are running out of options.

Sanford also pointed out that the issue is how our society behaves and how our culture encourages acts of violence.  

“We have too much ready access to ways of acting out our distress,” Sanford said. “One example is online bullying where you can say anything about the situation.”

Society portrays violence in movies, games, songs, etc. I do not believe that media directly affects individuals, but I do believe that the way society handles situations through media does have an impact.

“It is a question of what has society taught us as the best way to act on our distress,” Sanford said.

One example are the shows that I watch on television. One of my favorites, Gossip Girl, is of course about girls and gossip.

In this show, when one rumor is spread about somebody, that person finds who told Gossip Girl and tries to take that person or group down. Sometimes getting back at that person involves violence and sometimes it is just starting more rumors.

Not the usual way to handle gossip huh?

In action movies, how do the characters win an argument or disagreement? There is not usually a calm discussion, but a fight to see which character is stronger than the other.

Our society has let violence become normal, and has not acted to teach others the right way to handle anger or disagreements.

“We as a country have placed weapons of mass destruction, not just AR-15’s, but the internet, cars, all of those things at the disposal of people who have distress,” Sanford said.

The way that situations are handled these days really affect people and how they handle certain situations.

A lot of the time, people can’t agree to disagree and argue. These arguments can turn violent very easily, but those are not mental issues, they are simply behavioral issues.

“Behavioral issues include anybody that has a history of aggression like road rage or fighting when drunk,” Sanford said. “Anybody who engages in overt attacks on others need to be watched and it doesn’t mean they are all mentally ill.”  

After this interview, I had to really dig deep into what I thought the real problem is with mass destruction because it is so easy to go with the flow and believe what others say are the issues.

I think that when events like this happen, we should not blame a certain object or illness; however, we should look at all the factors in someone’s life that led up to the event before stereotyping the situation.


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