Shooting in the US state of Connecticut – Expert response

The shooting of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut has left many wondering how such an event could happen. The tragedy has led to public debate not only on gun controls but also access to mental health services.

Our colleagues at the UK SMC collected the following expert commentary. Feel free to use these quotes in your reporting. If you would like to contact a New Zealand expert, please contact the SMC (04 499 5476;

Dr Seena Fazel, Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow in Clinical Science, University of Oxford said:

“Research suggests that most people carrying out a multiple killing do not have an identifiable mental illness; estimates of those who have carried out a multiple killing and have a mental illness range from 10-40%.

“It is important to underscore the point that when psychiatrists make a diagnosis of a mental disorder or illness, they use multiple sources of information, such as interviews with the person themselves, partners and parents if appropriate, and observations are often made over weeks and months. Radiological, blood and neuropsychological tests are part of this process and inform the diagnostic process. Although it is easy to speculate over retrospective reports of behaviour, these may be inconsistent and based on information that is dated.

“What does seem common to many of these cases is that they are carried out by socially isolated young men who want to die from suicide. So beyond discussions about gun control, health services could consider about how to reach these individuals, most of whom have no history of involvement with mental health services, and examine whether their needs can be met and their risk managed.”