In the aftermath of the horrific massacre of elementary-school children in Nashville, Tennessee by school shooter Audrey Hale, politicians have once again called for increased gun control. But an increasingly minimised and underreported factor in school shootings is the use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a widely prescribed type of antidepressant.
According to British psychiatrist Dr David Healy, founder of RxISK.org, an independent website for researching and reporting on prescription drugs, 90% of school shootings over more than a decade have been linked to SSRIs.
Although there has been no conclusive evidence to suggest that drugs were a factor in the Nashville assault, some media outlets have reported that the perpetrator, Audrey Hale, was taking hormone medication. Despite this, Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican representative from Georgia, tweeted a statement about the shooting, insinuating that the shooter’s testosterone level was a contributing factor.
This is reminiscent of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that took place on 14th December 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut, resulting in the tragic loss of 26 lives at the hands of 20-year-old Adam Lanza. Following the incident, concerns were raised about Lanza’s psychiatric history and the possible role of medication in his violent behaviour.
Psychiatrist David Healy cautioned against jumping to conclusions about the cause of Lanza’s actions, noting that more information was needed about his medication use and whether it may have contributed to the problem. But Healy also expressed concerns that prescribed psychiatric medications may have played a role in the tragedy.
Dr Peter R. Breggin, a Harvard-trained psychiatrist and former full-time consultant at the National Institute of Mental Health, warned that problems for Lanza likely began with “getting tangled up” with psychiatric medicine. Breggin insisted that there has been overwhelming scientific evidence for decades correlating psychiatrically prescribed drugs with violence. Writing in Ethical Human Sciences and Services, a peer-reviewed scholarly journal, in 2003, Breggin concluded SSRI drugs could be a factor in suicide, violence, and other forms of extremely abnormal behaviour.
In many school shootings carried out by minors, court documents are sealed, and the extent of chemical use is unknown to the public. But in a number of high-profile cases, the link has been reported.
Healy believes the Lanza case fits the pattern of school shooters in some of the most famous incidents in recent memory, including the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado and the massacre at Virginia Tech in 2007. He calls the psychiatric diagnoses “worthless”, insisting that children of this kind need “more reaching out, more socialisation, more caring, more involvement.”
While psychiatric medications are prescribed to help manage various mental health conditions, concerns have been raised about potential side effects, including increased aggression and suicidal thoughts, particularly among adolescents. Several studies have attempted to establish a link between psychiatric medications and violent behaviour, including school shootings. It is essential to examine these studies critically and understand their limitations.
Some research has focused on analysing specific instances of school shootings where the perpetrators were known to be taking psychiatric medications. While these cases may suggest a potential connection, they do not provide conclusive evidence, as they do not account for the many other factors that may contribute to such acts of violence. It is important to distinguish between correlation and causation when examining the relationship between psychiatric medications and school shootings. Although some studies have found a correlation, this does not necessarily imply that psychiatric medications cause violent behaviour. For example, individuals with mental health issues may be more likely to engage in violent behaviour, regardless of whether they are taking medication.
Various factors can influence violent behaviour, such as genetics, upbringing, and socio-economic status. Studies attempting to establish a link between psychiatric medications and school shootings must account for these confounding variables to provide a more accurate and comprehensive understanding. As not all school shootings are reported or investigated thoroughly, it is difficult to obtain comprehensive data on the perpetrators and their backgrounds, including their mental health and medication history. This lack of data may limit the conclusions that can be drawn from the available research.
The relationship between psychiatric medications and school shootings is complex and multifaceted. While some research suggests a potential link, it is essential to recognise the limitations of these studies and consider the broader context. Mental health issues and the use of psychiatric medications are just two of many factors that can contribute to violent behaviour. Other factors, such as access to firearms, bullying, and a history of trauma, may also play a significant role.
The issue of school shootings is a complex one, and it is not clear-cut what causes them. While guns have been a common denominator in mass slayings at schools by teens, the role of psychiatric medications has also been called into question. But it is crucial to recognise that the relationship between psychiatric medications and school shootings is not a simple one, and it is essential to consider the broader context.
Although some research has suggested a potential link, it is important to understand the limitations of these studies. Case studies analysing specific instances of school shootings where the perpetrators were known to be taking psychiatric medications may suggest a potential connection, but they do not provide conclusive evidence. Furthermore, correlation does not imply causation, and various factors can influence violent behaviour.
To better understand the role of psychiatric medications in school shootings, more comprehensive and controlled studies are needed. It is also vital to promote open dialogue and awareness about mental health, as well as provide support and resources for those struggling with these issues. By working together, we can strive to create a safer environment for all members of our communities.
In the meantime, it is essential to ensure that guns do not end up in the hands of individuals who are at risk of using them to carry out acts of violence. Background checks and other measures can help prevent guns from getting into the wrong hands. Additionally, it is important to provide support and resources to those who may be at risk of committing violent acts, including those struggling with mental health issues.
School shootings are a tragedy, and it is essential that we take steps to prevent them from happening in the future. While the role of psychiatric medications in these incidents is still being debated, it is clear that more needs to be done to promote mental health and ensure that guns do not end up in the hands of individuals who may use them to carry out acts of violence. By working together, we can create a safer and more peaceful society for all.
Simona LeVey did her degree in psychology at Tel Aviv University. She is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.