Parkland shooting prompts conversation over mental illnesses

In the wake of Wednesday’s tragedy in Parkland, Florida, reports are addressing the concerns of mental illness.

Psychiatrists said it’s important to note that a very small percentage of violent acts are committed by people who are diagnosed with or in treatment for a mental illness.

Doctors said you can't draw a direct connection between a mass shooting and citing a shooter having a mental health issue without reviewing their medical file.

The medical community believes some reports are oversimplifying the issue of mass violence and stigmatizing those struggling with a mental illness.

Seventeen dead in the Florida high school mass shooting is leaving a community perplexed about why the killer could take the lives of innocent students. Headlines across the nation calling for gun control and others are pushing for mental health funding.

Board-certified psychiatrist Dr. Amit Vijapura said it’s crucial--if someone has a mental illness or is going through a difficult time--that they seek help. But if they don’t, then it’s the community's job to step up.

“We consider people to have a right to not get help. But that same right is hurting other people now,” Dr. Vijapura said.

He said there isn’t a strong legal system in place to force patients with psychotic illnesses to seek treatment.

“When it comes down to mental health we have to make sure we (medical professionals) are given some kind of freedom by the law to enforce that this individual gets evaluated in a hospital or by a mental health professional,” explained Vijapura.

Vijapura said violence is not a symptom of mental illnesses; meanwhile, there is a correlation between violence and people suffering from psychotic illnesses.

Psychotic disorders are severe mental disorders that cause abnormal thinking and perceptions. People with psychoses lose touch with reality. Two of the main symptoms are delusions and hallucinations.

Delusions are false beliefs, such as thinking that someone is plotting against you or that the TV is sending you secret messages. Hallucinations are false perceptions, such as hearing, seeing or feeling something that is not there.

Schizophrenia is one type of psychotic disorder. People with bipolar disorders may also have psychotic symptoms. Other problems that can cause psychosis include alcohol and some drugs, brain tumors, brain infections and stroke.

Action News Jax law and safety expert Dale Carson said through his former FBI experience he’s learned some gunmen don’t have a mental illness, and instead they purposely choose to hurt others.

“I don’t know if we can attribute this conduct that we’ve just seen to a mental illness,” Carson said.

Dr. Vijapura said people with a mental illness who are receiving effective treatment are no more violent than anyone else in the community.

“There is almost a guarantee if a patient has complied and is getting treatment, then they’re not going to be violent,” Vijapura said.

He said that it’s critical that the public supports and encourages people who are seeking treatment for a mental illness, because that’s the healthy option for them to live a productive and full life.