Vanderbilt professor leads discussion on myths behind mental illness, gun violence

Jonathan+Metzl%2C+Frederick+B.+Rentschler+II+Professor+of+Sociology+and+Psychiatry+and+Director+of+the+Center+for+Medicine%2C+Health+and+Society+at+Vanderbilt+University%2C+speaks+on+the+political+intracacies+surrounding+mass+shootings.++The+lecture+took+place+at+the+Levis+Faculty+Center+on+Thursday%2C+Mar.+19.
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Vanderbilt professor leads discussion on myths behind mental illness, gun violence

Jonathan Metzl, Frederick B. Rentschler II Professor of Sociology and Psychiatry and Director of the Center for Medicine, Health and Society at Vanderbilt University, speaks on the political intracacies surrounding mass shootings.  The lecture took place at the Levis Faculty Center on Thursday, Mar. 19.

Jonathan Metzl, Frederick B. Rentschler II Professor of Sociology and Psychiatry and Director of the Center for Medicine, Health and Society at Vanderbilt University, speaks on the political intracacies surrounding mass shootings. The lecture took place at the Levis Faculty Center on Thursday, Mar. 19.

Quentin Shaw

Jonathan Metzl, Frederick B. Rentschler II Professor of Sociology and Psychiatry and Director of the Center for Medicine, Health and Society at Vanderbilt University, speaks on the political intracacies surrounding mass shootings. The lecture took place at the Levis Faculty Center on Thursday, Mar. 19.

Quentin Shaw

Quentin Shaw

Jonathan Metzl, Frederick B. Rentschler II Professor of Sociology and Psychiatry and Director of the Center for Medicine, Health and Society at Vanderbilt University, speaks on the political intracacies surrounding mass shootings. The lecture took place at the Levis Faculty Center on Thursday, Mar. 19.

By Cori Lippert, Staff Writer

Vanderbilt University professor Jonathan Metzl spoke at the Levis Faculty Center on Thursday and highlighted three myths surrounding mental illness and gun violence.

Metzl said it is important to have these discussions because of the national conversation about gun safety in society.

“I talked about three myths that I think underlie the stereotype of assuming people’s mental illnesses are violent,” Metzl said. “I hope people come away thinking more critically about those automatic assumptions that mentally ill people are dangerous or are shooters.”

Metzl highlighted the stereotype that people with a mental illness have a higher risk of violence. He said there is little data on the connection between people with a mental illness and violence.

He also gave a list of risk factors related to gun violence, which include alcohol and guns, past history of violence, lack of gun training, access to firearms and “knowing someone,” since many gun violence happens within social networks.

Another myth Metzl highlighted is the idea psychiatrists can predict which one of their patients is more likely to commit gun violence or is going to commit gun violence.

He talked about the difficulty psychiatrists experience in making these claims, especially since most mental illnesses do not have any connection to violent tendencies.

“I think that mental health practitioners, like myself, need to be a part of the conversation to make it easier; not so much about ‘are we going to diagnose the mass shooter?’ but to say ‘why do we need so many guns?’ ‘What kind of society do we live in?’” Metzl said.

The last myth he addressed is the idea of the “dangerous loner.” Mass shootings always spark up the debate among neuroscientists and psychiatrists about what is going on inside the shooter’s brain, he said.  

Metzl also argued the different approaches society tends to take towards those who can own guns and those who cannot.

Metzl discussed the Black Panthers in the 1960s, and how society calls for gun control when Black people own guns. However, when White people decide to arm themselves, society tends to blame mental illness as the factor behind violent behavior, Metzl said.

Metzl repeated throughout his lecture that he is not trying to take away America’s guns.

“For too long we have been pushed into these completely ridiculous polls of pro- or anti-gun, and I think it is important to keep trying to create a middle ground where it’s safe for people to talk amongst the political divide,” Metzl said.

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