School Shootings Bring Mental Illness to Forefront

Since the 1999 school shooting in Littleton, Colorado that left 15 Columbine High School students dead and 21 injured, there have been more than 20 mass school shootings across the United States.1 The most recent, in Florida at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, saw 17 killed and 14 wounded at the hands of a former student, Nikolas Cruze.

Cruze, like many other school shooters before him, had a history of mental illness. His consistent, inappropriate and violent behavior at home and at school now has community and law enforcement officials asking themselves if they could have done more to prevent the attack.2 By paying attention to numerous red flags and better addressing the mental health needs of one troubled teenager, countess others might have been saved.

The conversations after heartbreaking events like these typically turn to gun control legislation. But lately, more and more people are including the need for better mental health education and services as a vital part of preventing such tragedies. Understanding the mental health needs of today’s youth — and society in general — is an essential place to begin.

U.S. Mental Illness at a Glance

Those in the mental health field and those who have watched a loved one struggle with mental illness know the impact it has on school violence is complex, widespread and continuing to grow. The following statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness provide a current glimpse of mental health in the United States:

  • Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. — 43.8 million, or 18.5% — experiences mental illness in a given year.
  • Approximately 1 in 25 adults in the U.S. — 9.8 million, or 4.0% — experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.
  • 6.9% of adults in the U.S. — 16 million — had at least one major depressive episode in the past year.
  • 18.1% of adults in the U.S. experienced an anxiety disorder such as posttraumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and specific phobias.
  • Among the 20.2 million adults in the U.S. who experienced a substance use disorder, 50.5% — 10.2 million adults — had a co-occurring mental illness.
  • Mood disorders, including major depression, dysthymic disorder and bipolar disorder, are the third most common cause of hospitalization in the U.S. for both youth and adults aged 18–44.3

Statistics specific to young people paint an interesting picture and may provide insight into the increasing instances of school-related violence:

  • Approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13–18 (21.4%) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. For children aged 8–15, the estimate is 13%.
  • 70% of youth in juvenile justice systems have at least one mental health condition, and at least 20% live with a serious mental illness.
  • Just over half (50.6%) of children aged 8-15 received mental health services in the previous year.
  • Half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14; three-quarters by age 24. Despite effective treatment, there are long delays — sometimes decades — between the first appearance of symptoms and when people get help.
  • Over one-third (37%) of students with a mental health condition age 14­–21 and older who are served by special education drop out — the highest dropout rate of any disability group.
  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., the 3rd leading cause of death for people aged 10–14 and the 2nd leading cause of death for people aged 15–24.
  • More than 90% of children who die by suicide have a mental health condition.


Mental Health Crisis

These startling numbers point to a mental health crisis in our country. Thankfully that crisis is now getting more attention due to how closely related the problem is to the growing number of school shootings each year. The stigma that mental illness has carried in the past is becoming less of a factor when it comes to people getting the help they need. However, many sufferers continue to be reluctant to share the details of their mental health issues for fear of being labeled or treated differently. But reaching out for help or identifying someone who has a problem is the only way desperately needed treatment can begin.

According to a year-long study by the Washington Post, more than 187,000 students from 193 primary or secondary schools have experienced a school shooting during regular school hours since and including Columbine.4 With more and more students being exposed to school-related violence, including shootings, bullying and the suicide of class members, the need for more mental health education and ways to find help has never been greater.4

Mental Health and Addiction Help at The Oaks at La Paloma

Raising a generation that understands the importance of good mental health and the signs and symptoms of mental illness is a crucial step in preventing the school-related tragedies of the last 20 years. If you or someone you love needs treatment for an addiction and co-occurring mental health disorder, call The Oaks at La Paloma at the toll-free number on our homepage. Our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day to answer your questions about mental health and available treatment options. Call us now.

1 “Major School Shootings in the United States in Past 20 Years.” The Sydney Morning Herald, The Sydney Morning Herald, 15 Feb. 2018.

2 Andone, Dakin. “Nikolas Cruz’s Behavior Raised Numerous Red Flags, but No One Intervened.” CNN, Cable News Network, 26 Feb. 2018.

3 “Mental Health by the Numbers.” NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness, Apr. 2018.

4The Extraordinary Number of Kids Who Have Endured School Shootings since Columbine.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 21 Mar. 2018.

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