The Mind of a Shooter

Katie Wertheimer

The Sandy Hook Shooting; 26 children dead. The Las Vegas Shooting; 58 lives lost. The Sutherland Springs Shooting; 26 people killed. These are just three of the catastrophic events that ended the lives of so many in the country.

Adam Lanza, Stephen Paddock, and  Patrick Kelley are the men responsible for the death of the 26 children shot in their classroom, the 58 people who were blindsighted while enjoying a country music concert, and the 26 churchgoers killed. It is difficult to fathom that just one person could be responsible for creating such an impact on society and steal the lives of so many, but it is possible that many of those shooters were originally just normal people that were plagued with some sort of mental illness.

Mental illness is often stigmatized to equal dangerous and include violent symptoms, but that could not be less true. Many people live with mental illnesses and are able to live perfectly normal lives. Unfortunately, there are the select few that do turn violent, and that seems to be the case when it comes to the people willing to walk into a public place and kill all of those in sight.

There are many different types of mental illnesses that can lead to a person to turn violent. They suffer from things like lack of remorse, paranoia, delusions and it is physically difficult for them to coexist with others without listening to the devil on their shoulder and harming themselves or others.

Mental Illnesses: Antisocial Personality Disorder

Antisocial Personality Disorder is an affliction that plagues many people known for violence. When one has this disorder, they are known to have no conscience, or sense of right and wrong; these people could steal, kill, or lie and virtually feel little to no guilt. It is very common for this disorder to develop among young men and many of them show signs of the disorder around the age of fifteen. The more common household name for this condition is sociopath. Although this is a manageable personality disorder, it tends to pull people along the path of brutality and has been a common link for when discussing the mind behind killers and what makes them perform heinous acts that many ordinary people would find unthinkable.

In order to completely understand this disease, one must grasp the idea of what causes this behavior. Specific malformations in the brain and other chemical imbalances are what are known to be the reason behind the operation of someone with Antisocial Personality Disorder. These malformations include, lower levels of activity in the frontal lobes of the brain: the part of the brain that is responsible for impulses and self-control. When it comes to imbalances, in the scale that is your brain, many people are born with lower levels of specific neurotransmitters and hormones like serotonin and dopamine-those responsible for mood and judgment in the brain-  associated with the prefrontal cortex in the front of the brain. Although there is no concrete gene or set of codes in ones DNA that create a murderer, many people could be specifically vulnerable to the disorder if they have other family members that share in the chaos. It is also possible to develop the disease after a trauma or suffering abuse. These impulsive behaviors that accompany anger issues and lack of conscious could be the perfect storm when it comes to the making of a mass shooter.

Other Mental Illnesses: Psychosis

Personality disorders are not the only common links in the minds of killers. Another disorders that affect the actions of people that can eventually turn violent is Psychosis, an extreme and complete separation from reality.  Psychosis can be a result of a psychological disorder known as Schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is marked by many symptoms including delusions, agitation, and paranoia. In itself, schizophrenia is not often considered dangerous; it is when a schizophrenic suffers stress or some other sort of trigger that it can cause this extreme disorder known as Psychosis. Another cause of psychosis is drug use. Drug usage can  throw off your brain’s natural balance and can cause some to act out in a violent manner.

Examples of drugs that can put one is this headspace are cocaine, MDMA, LSD, and Marijuana. These drugs act as inhibitors in the brain and make themselves appear to be specific neurotransmitters that are already present in the brain. When the brain has these increased levels of things like dopamine, it can have many different effects on the body. Although someone suffering from a psychotic break may not be in that state permanently, it is very possible for them to make some costly decisions in their state of confusion. Many people who turn to violence could have suffered in the  early ages of their development. Whether they suffered a loss, or were abused, these physical, external causes could definitely have a negative effect on their mental state. Even when commiting violent acts, they are completely withdrawn from the rest of the world and may fail to remember committing the action.

Past, Present, and Future

Although it is difficult to predict when a person will take that violent turn, paying attention to these signs are symptoms make it possible to get help. Possible treatments for these disorders range from certain medications that counteract neurotransmitter and hormonal imbalances in the brain,  to simply sitting down and speaking with the person suffering from the ailment. For these types of illnesses, the victim often suffers some sort of abuse and even though they’re actions are inadmissible, they are often hurting as well.

These violent acts that have become more common in society are the products the minds of these mentally unstable people have developed. And although many state that less than 3% of mass shooters suffer from some psychological problem, it is more than likely that they were failed to be diagnosed or were only in a temporary state of mental instability. It is very difficult to fathom that someone could commit these violent acts in a proper mind state. Regardless, while moving forward, educating oneself on the signs, symptoms, and effects of these mental illnesses could possibly save the lives of many and help a person in mental distress maintain a healthy and safe life.