The Independent, UK – When Donald Trump targeted mental illness as the cause of the mass shootings that killed 31 people in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, federal health officials made sure no government experts might contradict him.
A Health and Human Services (HHS) directive on 5 August warned communication staffers not to post anything on social media related to mental health, violence and mass shootings without prior approval.
That alarmed some government mental health experts who said they felt muzzled at a moment many Americans were searching for answers to the US epidemic of mass shootings, said three agency employees.
Many researchers and mental health experts said Trump’s comments contradicted well-established research.
“Mental illness and hatred pull the trigger. Not the gun,” Trump said immediately after the shootings. In the following days, he doubled down on his statement, arguing that America should reopen mental institutions shuttered decades ago as a way to address mass shootings.
While mental illness is sometimes a factor in such shootings, it is rarely a predictor, according to a growing body of research.
Most studies of mass shooters have found that no more than a quarter of them have diagnosed mental illness.
Researchers have noted more commonly shared attributes include a strong sense of resentment, desire for notoriety, obsession with other shooters, a history of domestic violence, narcissism and access to firearms.
“To say that scientists and experts who know the data and facts best are not allowed to speak – that’s very concerning,” said Dominic Sisti, a University of Pennsylvania professor who studies ethics in mental health and psychiatry. “It’s especially alarming that they’re doing this at a critical moment when what we need most is research and evidence-based facts about mental illness.”
An HHS employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity to relate internal discussions said he had “no doubt this was meant to prevent anybody from making any statements that might contradict the president.”
“We understand we’re not supposed to contradict the president, but it’s not typical” for the administration to require that all social media posts be cleared by senior officials, he added … Read more.