ROSEBURG, OR -- As Oregonians try to rationalize last week’s shooting at Umpqua Community College, many speculate that the gunman was suffering from a mental illness.
But Psychiatrist Dr. Dan Bristow says it’s important to wait on such discussions until all the facts are known. "The fear that often accompanies an act like that in the general population sometimes it leads to certain reports from the media that aren’t good. We try to explain the unexplainable in these situations, and I think a lot of times that leads us down political roads and discussions about gun control, someone has to have a mental illness to commit an act like this. And those are things that are way premature in talking about, when we should be talking about how do we support the survivors, how do we support the city of Roseburg?"
A neighbor told the New York Times that the shooter’s mother said her son was dealing with “some mental issues.”
Dr. Bristow tells KBND, "The vast majority of violent crime in America is committed through criminal behavior – in other words, the person knows that what they’re doing is wrong and they do it anyway. To say that that’s mental illness is basically falsely connecting any sort of abnormal criminal behavior with a mental illness, which is very rarely the case." He adds, "Some studies have shown that people with severe mental illness are no more likely to commit a violent act than the general population. So, when that connection is made, I think it makes people who are experiencing mental health problems less likely to get help for them because it creates more fear.
A doctor with the Oregon Psychiatric Physicians Association, Dr. Bristow traveled to Roseburg Friday to meet with first responders. What he found was a community caring for its own. "I met with a couple of State Police officers down the road from UCC. It was about 10:30 Friday night and I just wanted to stop in and thank them for their work. And, as we were talking a family dropped off a couple of boxed meals for the officers. And, immediately seeing the support and the heart of the people of Roseburg, it made me think the national media isn’t getting the whole story here, because this community is really banding together."