Study finds common mental health symptoms are unrelated to gun threats

New research suggests that many common mental health symptoms have no link to using firearms to threaten someone. The study has been published in the scientific journal Preventive Medicine.

“Despite the prevailing public and media perception of mental health being associated with gun violence, there is generally a lack of research to support this. We conducted this study to test the link and to provide scientific evidence,” said study author Yu Lu, an assistant professor at the University of Oklahoma.

The researchers examined data from 663 young adults who had been recruited from Houston-area public schools for a longitudinal study.

The participants were surveyed regarding their firearm possession and use as well as about anxiety, depression, stress, posttraumatic stress disorder, hostility, impulsivity, borderline personality disorder, mental health treatment and other demographic details.

“Our study looked at two gun-related behaviors, gun carrying outside of homes (this excludes occasions for hunting purposes) and threatening someone with a gun, and their associations with mental health and gun access,” Lu told PsyPost.

“We found that the majority of mental health symptoms we examined, including anxiety, depression, stress, PTSD, and borderline personality disorder, were unrelated to gun violence.”

“Instead, individuals with gun access were 18 times more likely to have threatened someone with a gun compared to those who did not have gun access, even after controlling for mental health, prior mental health treatment, and demographic characteristics, such as age, gender, race/ethnicity,” Lu said.

Hostility predicted threatening someone with a gun, while impulsivity predicted gun carriage.

Those who scored higher on a measure of impulsivity in the spring of 2015 were 1.91 times more likely to report carry a gun two years later. Those who scored higher on a measure of hostility were 3.51 times more likely to have threatened someone with a gun two years later.

“The main takeaway from the study is that we should not stigmatize people with mental health problems, not assume they are dangerous, because more than likely they are not dangerous and actually are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence,” Lu told PsyPost.

But the study — like all research — includes some caveats. The study did not examine some severe mental disorders and only measured gun threats — not actual shootings.

“There is an overall lack of research on gun violence. We are the first one to look at mental illness and gun access together, we are also the first one to use longitudinal data to look at the relationship overtime,” Lu explained.

“It should be noted that our study participants were young adults primarily from Texas and our study did not test a comprehensive list of mental health symptoms (e.g., we did not test schizophrenia). More research is needed on gun violence overall and to specifically test with other populations and include other types of mental health issues.”

The study, “Dangerous weapons or dangerous people? The temporal associations between gun violence and mental health“, was authored by Yu Lu and Jeff R. Temple.