Trump: 'Mental Health Is Your Problem Here'; Not So, Say San Antonio Advocates

Nov 7, 2017

President Donald Trump offered a blunt take on Devin Kelley, the mass shooter who opened fire at a church in Sutherland Springs over the weekend, during a press conference Monday in Japan.


"I think that mental health is your problem here. This was a very, based on preliminary reports, very deranged individual with a lot of problems over a long period of time,” he said.

Many are quick to blame mental illness in the wake of mass violence. But mental health experts say that blame is often founded upon misconceptions.

Mark Stoeltje is the executive director of the San Antonio Clubhouse, a professional self-help program operated by individuals recovering from mental illness.

"When something like this happens, we want a simple, concrete answer,” he said. “I think it's irresponsible to blame mental illness because it perpetuates the stigma and prevents people from seeking treatment."

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “mental disorders are common throughout the United States, affecting tens of millions of people each year, and that, overall, only about half of those affected receive treatment.”

But, Stoeltje said, a diagnosis of mental illness doesn’t necessarily mean people are more prone to violence.

"When you work with this population, you understand that 3 percent of people with mental illness are prone to violence. And 3 percent of the general population is prone to violence,” he said. “So the idea that there's a correlation is just not true."

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that most mentally ill people are non-violent, and only 3 to 5 percent of violent acts can be attributed to individuals with serious mental illnesses. People with severe mental illness are more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population.

Stoeltje said violence is often the product of isolation, rather than diagnosable mental illness.  

Carson Frame can be reached at carson@tpr.org or on Twitter @carson_frame