Negi: Focus on suicide instead of mass shootings

In modern times, Americans often wake up reading, hearing or seeing graphic images of scores of people succumbing to mass shootings. Places such as Tehama County, California; the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas; Las Vegas, Nevada; Charleston, South Carolina; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Colorado Springs, Colorado; and San Bernardino, California, stir up memories made familiar by tragic incidents at Columbine, Colorado; Blacksburg, Virginia; Tucson, Arizona; and Newtown, Connecticut.

Viewing emergency response teams gushing to sites where these horrific incidents occur, keenly awaiting the portrait of the newly infamous killer, and knowing the motivation behind these brutal acts has become a part of the American lifestyle.


Taking into account the frequency of mass shootings in America, it is no wonder that several reputable media outlets nowadays conceptualize mass shootings as a contagious disease that is difficult to contain. Chronicles of epidemic diseases reflect our sense of helplessness when faced with mass mortality. Once these mass shootings take place, people conjure different theories trying to explain the “why” associated with such heinous acts. Because of political maneuvering, we have a limited amount of research shedding light into these egregious acts.

Key findings from the research conducted on mass shootings by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Secret Service and the Department of Education indicates that there are a couple of factors that are common in individuals who commit mass murder: extreme feelings of anger and revenge, the lack of an accomplice, feelings of social alienation, and planning well in advance of the offense.

There are several people among us who share these traits, but are able to refrain from engaging in such despicable acts, which our president, after the recent tragedy in Las Vegas, called an “act of pure evil.”

According to Gun Violence Archive, a not-for-profit corporation formed in 2013 to provide free online public access to accurate information about gun-related violence in the United States, this year thus far there have been 327 mass shootings, 14,322 deaths and 29,122 injuries secondary to gun violence.

From our current understanding of the risk factors and trends associated with gun-related violence secondary to mass shootings, which are extremely rare events, a more practical approach would be to invest our resources to another public health crisis, which is suicide.

The reality is that mass shootings, the cities and the events that now define them constitute a small fraction of the gun violence recorded in America during this or any year. Tallies of deaths subsequent to mass shootings are dwarfed by the number of Americans who die by suicide every year. Each year, 44,193 Americans die by suicide. On average, there are 121 suicides per day. And firearms account for almost 50 percent of all suicides. Sadly, firearm homicide is the leading cause of violence-related injury death for children ages 5-9 and older adolescents and adults ages 15-34, and the second-leading cause for children and young adolescents ages 10-14.

As applicable to any disease, the earlier the intervention, the better the prognosis or the long-term outlook. In regards to suicide, we need to travel as upstream as possible, so that we can provide services to our vulnerable population. Public health approaches to problems that relatively affect a large segment of the population, such as suicide versus mass shooting, might be the best way of effecting changes from which everybody benefits.

It is sad that after a horrific incident, such as a mass shooting, the emotional salience conveyed in our politicians’ address to the public instills a glimmer of hope to circumvent this issue, albeit very terse. Utilizing the preventive model approach, our politicians, if they truly have the will, can empathize with us all by taking actions that promote increased funding for agencies, such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an agency providing targeted funding for states to implement proven and effective services for individuals with substance use or mental health conditions and reauthorizing the Children’s Health Insurance Program, a program that provides matching funds to states for health insurance to families with children.

If we can mitigate the risk of harm to self or others by providing therapeutic supports to our citizens displaying signs/symptoms of mental illness during its infancy stages, maybe we might be able to ameliorate some of the factors leading to the breakdown of social institutions, culminating in mass murder. Our politicians can draw inspiration from Rosa Parks who once said, “If I could sit down for freedom, you can stand up for children.”

Dr. Shobhit Negi is a board-certified child and adolescent, adult and forensic psychiatrist. He see patients in Carroll and Howard counties.