Why is Fort Hood Shooter's 'Mental Health' Constantly Reported?

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Television news live trucks at the front gate of Fort Hood, Texas. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Television news live trucks at the front gate of Fort Hood, Texas. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

To state the obvious, the shooting at Fort Hood is a tragedy. But in press reports the alleged shooter, Ivan Lopez, cannot be mentioned without reference to his recent evaluation and treatment for mental health issues.

As NPR correctly points out, the fact of the shooter's treatment could not have predicted that the violent event would have occurred. Worse, the press reports wrongly scare people into thinking that mental illness is easily linked to violent behavior.

It's not. From NPR:

One national survey in 2006 found that most Americans — 60 percent — believed people with schizophrenia were likely to be violent. But the vast majority of people with psychiatric disorders are not violent. In fact, another study found they are far more likely to be the victims of violence, and that 1 in 4 experience violence every year.

Dr. Carl Bell, a psychiatrist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says being able to predict who will be violent in advance "is impossible."

"The reality," Bell says, "is that prediction of violence is only useful in an immediate clinical situation: Someone comes in and says, 'I'm going to kill myself.' Then you take their word for it, and can predict violence in the short term. But you cannot use that to predict violence in the long term."

Army officials said Thursday that Lopez had seen a psychiatrist in the past month, but there were no indications that he was suicidal.

Yes, Ivan Lopez was being treated for depression and anxiety. According to the CDC, close to 7 percent of Americans suffer a major depressive episode every year, and about 10 percent suffer from an anxiety disorder.

In other words, Lopez was diagnosed with very common conditions. Reporters may as well discuss the color of Lopez' hair or his height.


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