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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

The U.S. has a gun violence problem and a mental health problem. But conflating the two won't solve either.

The big picture: The average person suffering from a mental illness is no more prone to violence than anyone without a mental illness, and mental-health advocates say exaggerating a link between mass shootings and mental illness can be stigmatizing and harmful.

Between the lines: "A very small proportion of people with a mental illness are at increased risk of violent behavior if they are not treated," David Shern and Wayne Lindstrom, former CEOs of Mental Health America, wrote in Health Affairs in 2013.

  • These are the people with the most severe mental illnesses — often those characterized by paranoia and delusions, the authors added. These people also may have a substance abuse problem or a "history of victimization."
  • Some researchers question whether limiting access to firearms for the mentally ill would further discourage them from seeking treatment.

Yes, but: Nearly two-thirds of gun deaths are suicides, and “mental illness is a very strong causal factor in suicide," Duke University's Jeffrey Swanson said.

Even if Congress did decide to further limit people with mental illness' access to guns, they'll quickly run up against the mental health system's broader shortcomings.

  • A patient must interact with the system to receive a mental health diagnosis. And one of the system's biggest problems is that many people with mental illness can't get the treatment that they need.
  • Only 25% of active shooters included in an analysis released by the FBI last year had ever been diagnosed with a mental illness, even though 62% had appeared to be struggling with some kind of mental health issue in the year before the attack.
  • "The act of somebody who goes out and massacres a bunch of strangers, that’s not the act of a healthy mind," Swanson said. "But that doesn’t mean that person has a mental illness."

The bottom line: "While mental illness typically does not cause violence, acts of violence do typically cause mental illness," Mental Health America wrote in a policy statement.

Flashback from 2017: Mental health: Not just about mass shootings

Go deeper

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
1 hour ago - Economy & Business

How the tech stock selloff is hurting average Americans

Expand chart
Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

Investors holding the ultra-popular Nasdaq 100 and S&P 500 index funds have been hard hit over the last two weeks as tech shares have been roiled by rising U.S. Treasury yields.

Why it matters: Even though the economy is growing and many U.S. stocks are performing well, most investors are seeing their wealth decline because major indexes no longer reflect the overall economy or even a broad swath of public companies — they reflect the performance of a few of the country's biggest companies.

1 hour ago - World

UN rights chief: At least 54 killed, 1,700 detained since Myanmar coup

A Feb. 7 protest in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo: Getty Images/Getty Images

Police and military officers in Myanmar have killed at least 54 people during anti-coup protests, while "arbitrarily" detaining over 1,700 people, United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet said Thursday.

Why it matters: Protesters have demonstrating across Myanmar for nearly a month, demanding the restoration of democracy after the country's military leaders overthrew its democratically elected government on Feb. 1.

3 hours ago - Health

The danger of a fourth wave

Expand chart
Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Note: Anomalous Arkansas case data from Feb. 28 was not included in the calculated change; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The U.S. may be on the verge of another surge in coronavirus cases, despite weeks of good news.

The big picture: Nationwide, progress against the virus has stalled. And some states are ditching their most important public safety measures even as their outbreaks are getting worse.