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expert comment on speculation around mental health and autism diagnoses of the man who shot and killed multiple people in Plymouth

There have been several reports speculating over the mental health and/or autism diagnosis of the Plymouth shooting suspect.


Prof Elizabeth Kuipers, Professor Emerita of Clinical Psychology, King’s College London, said:

“It sounds the most awful incident.  It is far too early to say anything about motives or links with mental health conditions, if any, and having a mental health problem does not automatically mean there is any link to violent action.”


Prof Emily Simonoff, Professor of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry and Head of Department of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London, said:

“In relation to the sad events that took place last night in Plymouth, there has been  speculation whether Jake Davison may have been suffering with mental health problems and/or had an autism diagnosis.  At present, very little is known about the factors that led to last night’s events and speculation around pre-existing health problems or underlying conditions does not increase public understanding of the events.  On the other hand, it may do much harm, by increasing stigma and blame that is then attributed to mental health problems and autism.  While the UK has made great strides in recent years in reducing stigma and increasing acceptance of mental health conditions and autism, this hard-won shift in attitudes can easily be over-turned by careless comments and speculation.  Neither mental health problems nor autism cause violent behaviour but careless comments linking the two can be very damaging to individuals with these conditions and their families.”


Dr James Cusack, Autistica CEO, said:

“We know that autistic people are more likely to be victims of crime than they are to commit a crime.  Speculating about an individual’s diagnosis following a tragic event like this does nothing to benefit the victims or their families.  It does place a dangerous burden on the many autistic people across the country who are already facing inequality.  Speculation can fuel misinformation about autism and misunderstanding of autistic people.”


Dr Dean Burnett, Honorary Research Associate, Cardiff University, said:

“There are virtually no benefits to public, mainstream speculation about someone’s mental health, particularly if they’re responsible for an extremely violent act, and many dangers and risks of doing so. 

“It is simply not possible to accurately and fairly diagnose someone without professional training and without extensive knowledge of the individual and what they’re experiencing, both internally and externally in their wider daily life. Trained psychiatrists and psychologists have many tools and procedures to develop the required understanding for diagnosing a person. One act, however extreme and violent, coupled with some speculation by friends and family, is by no means sufficient to make any conclusions about someone’s mental health, especially if you’re not trained in such matters, and especially if your speculations will reach a large audience of similarly uninformed people. 

“Making speculations as to the mental health situation of a violent criminal can have so many damaging repercussions. The vast, vast majority of people with mental health conditions never commit a violent crime, and are indeed far more likely to be the victims of violence, not the cause. Automatically linking violence to mental health (or neurodevelopmental conditions like autism) in an emotionally-charged public scenario can do significant harm to the perceptions of people who deal with these conditions all the time and never cause anyone else any injury at all. The fact that there have already been uninformed questions about the shooter’s mental health shows just how common and insidious this ‘mental health = violence’ assumption is. It only inflicts further damage on the communities of people who already struggle for acceptance and recognition as it is. It’s dangerous and irresponsible to do this. 

“The most important aspect that’s so often overlooked is this; it’s entirely possible to commit a horrific crime without having anything wrong with your mental health. Radicalisation, ideological factors, personal issues, the influences of dangerous communities with hateful views, these can all play a major role in driving someone to commit atrocities. They can often be far more influential than any mental health disorder, most of which can be actively debilitating so prevent people from coordinated acts and planning. And even if someone does have mental health vulnerabilities, that alone may just make them more vulnerable to the aggressive or dangerous influences, rather than being the root cause. As a result, pinning the blame on mental health problems helps no-one and actively harms many; it lets the dangerous influences that are actually responsible off the hook, so they are free to carry on and coerce others into similar acts, and it puts the blame on some of the most vulnerable and already-marginalised in our society, making their lives even harder than they already are. 

“Nobody benefits from immediately jumping to conclusions about a killer’s mental health.”


Prof Stephen Lawrie, Professor of Psychiatry, University of Edinburgh, said:

“Various studies show that around 10% of all murders each year in the UK are committed by people with diagnosable mental illness. Statistically, therefore, the chances are that most murderers (about 90%) are not mentally ill.  The general public and media may struggle to understand apparently motiveless murders, and may then use words like ‘mad’ or ‘insane’, but the regrettable truth is that homo sapiens (and especially men) have a great capacity for aggression and violence.”



Declared interests

None received.

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