First report on mass shootings from Columbia University database

February 18, 2021

NEW YORK, NY (Feb. 18, 2021)--A research team at the Center of Prevention and Evaluation (COPE) at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and the New York State Psychiatric Institute, led by Drs. Gary Brucato and Ragy R. Girgis, found that, contrary to popular belief, serious mental illness was present in only 11% of all mass murderers and in only 8% of mass shooters.

The study--the first published report on mass shootings from the Columbia Mass Murder Database--appeared online Feb. 17th in Psychological Medicine.

The investigators sought to gain much-needed insight into the relationship between serious mental illness and mass shootings. Creating the database involved extensive review of 14,785 murders publicly described in English in print or online, occurring worldwide between 1900 and 2019.

In the study, the investigators analyzed 1,315 mass murders of all types, from all over the world, to better understand mass shooting events.

People who committed mass murder by other means, such as fire, explosives, poison, stabbing, bludgeoning, or driving vehicles into crowds, had a prevalence of serious mental illness of 18%. Although almost two-thirds of all mass murders were committed with firearms, non-firearm means resulted in significantly more casualties per event.

Examining a wide array of demographic, psychological and other background features of mass murderers available in multiple public reports, the researchers also found that U.S.-based mass shooters were more likely to have legal histories, use recreational drugs or misuse alcohol, or have histories of non-psychotic psychiatric or neurologic symptoms."

They also reported that non-automatic firearms are the weapon of choice of most mass shooters. Furthermore, the investigators found that, among mass shooters in the U.S., the only distinguishing factor between those who used non-automatic vs. semi-automatic weapons is that individuals with any psychiatric or neurologic condition were more likely to use semi-automatic weapons. These findings may have key implications for the way background checks preceding weapon purchases should be conducted.

The authors also found that since 1970 the rate of mass shootings has been far greater than the rate of non-firearm mass murder, with the vast majority of mass shootings occurring in the United States.

Dr. Brucato remarked, "The findings from this potentially definitive study suggest that emphasis on serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia or psychotic mood disorders, as a risk factor for mass shootings is given undue emphasis, leading to public fear and stigmatization."

Coauthor Dr. Paul S. Appelbaum, known for his work on violence in psychiatric samples, noted, "These data suggest that other difficulties, such as legal problems, substance and alcohol use, and difficulty coping with life events seem more useful foci for prevention and policy than an emphasis on serious mental illness."
The study is titled, "Psychotic Symptoms in Mass Shootings vs. Mass Murders Not Involving Firearms: Findings from the Columbia Mass Murder Database. "

Authors: Gary Brucato Ph.D., Paul S. Appelbaum M.D., Hannah Hesson B.A., Eileen A. Shea M.P.H., Gabriella Dishy M.A., Kathryn Lee M.A., Tyler Pia M.A., Faizan Syed M.D., Alexandra Villalobos M.A., Melanie M. Wall Ph.D., Jeffrey A. Lieberman M.D., Ragy R. Girgis M.D.

The Columbia University Department of Psychiatry is among the top ranked psychiatry departments in the nation and has contributed greatly to the understanding and treatment of brain disorders. Co-located at the New York State Psychiatric Institute on the NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Irving Medical Center campus in Washington Heights, the department enjoys a rich and productive collaborative relationship with physicians in various disciplines at the Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. Columbia Psychiatry is home to distinguished clinicians and researchers noted for their clinical and research advances in the diagnosis and treatment of depression, suicide, schizophrenia, bipolar and anxiety disorders, eating disorders, substance use disorders, and childhood psychiatric disorders.

Columbia University Irving Medical Center provides international leadership in basic, preclinical, and clinical research; medical and health sciences education; and patient care. The medical center trains future leaders and includes the dedicated work of many physicians, scientists, public health professionals, dentists, and nurses at the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, the Mailman School of Public Health, the College of Dental Medicine, the School of Nursing, the biomedical departments of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and allied research centers and institutions. Columbia University Irving Medical Center is home to the largest medical research enterprise in New York City and State and one of the largest faculty medical practices in the Northeast. For more information, visit or

Columbia University Irving Medical Center

Related Mental Illness Articles from Brightsurf:

Mental illness, mental health care use among police officers
A survey study of Texas police officers examines how common mental illness and mental health care use are in a large urban department.

Hospitals miss mental illness diagnosis in more than a quarter of patients
Severe mental illness diagnoses are missed by clinicians in more than one quarter of cases when people are hospitalised for other conditions, finds a new study led by UCL researchers, published in PLOS Medicine.

Young migrants at risk of mental illness
Experience of trauma, abuse and poverty puts the mental health of many young refugees at risk.

Chronic illness in childhood linked to higher rates of mental illness
Children with long-term health conditions may be more likely to experience mental illness in early adolescence than healthy children, according to new research from Queen Mary University of London.

Did 'Joker' movie perpetuate prejudices against those with mental illness?
Researchers in this survey study examined whether watching the 2019 movie 'Joker,' in which the namesake character is violent and has mental illness, was associated with a change in the level of prejudice toward people with mental illness compared with others who watched another movie.

Skills training opens 'DOORS' to digital mental health for patients with serious mental illness
Digital technologies, especially smartphone apps, have great promise for increasing access to care for patients with serious mental illness such as schizophrenia.

Research calls for new measures to treat mental illness and opioid use
Opioid use among psychiatric hospital patients needs to be addressed through an integrated approach to managing mental illness, pain and substance use, a study by researchers at the University of Waterloo has found.

Researchers challenge myth of the relationship between mental illness and incarceration
Researchers examined the relationship between psychiatric diagnoses and future incarceration by merging data from psychiatric interviews that took place in the 1980s with 30 years of follow-up data.

New research raises important questions on how mental illness is currently diagnosed
This research raises questions as to whether current diagnoses accurately reflect the underlying neurobiology of mental illness.

Young teens of color more likely to avoid peers with mental illness
Students identifying as black or Latino are more likely to say they would socially distance themselves from peers with a mental illness, a key indicator of mental illness stigma, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

Read More: Mental Illness News and Mental Illness Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to