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Mass shootings account for a small fraction of annual worldwide murders, yet disproportionately affect society and influence policy. Evidence suggesting a link between mass shootings and severe mental illness (i.e. involving psychosis) is often misrepresented, generating stigma. Thus, the actual prevalence constitutes a key public health concern.
We examined global personal-cause mass murders from 1900 to 2019, amassed by review of 14 785 murders publicly described in English in print or online, and collected information regarding perpetrator, demographics, legal history, drug use and alcohol misuse, and history of symptoms of psychiatric or neurologic illness using standardized methods. We distinguished whether firearms were or were not used, and, if so, the type (non-automatic v. semi- or fully-automatic).
We identified 1315 mass murders, 65% of which involved firearms. Lifetime psychotic symptoms were noted among 11% of perpetrators, consistent with previous reports, including 18% of mass murderers who did not use firearms and 8% of those who did (χ2 = 28.0, p < 0.01). US-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. US-based mass shooters with symptoms of any psychiatric or neurologic illness more frequently used semi-or fully-automatic firearms.
These results suggest that policies aimed at preventing mass shootings by focusing on serious mental illness, characterized by psychotic symptoms, may have limited impact. Policies such as those targeting firearm access, recreational drug use and alcohol misuse, legal history, and non-psychotic psychopathology might yield more substantial results.
Early detection and intervention strategies in patients at clinical high-risk (CHR) for syndromal psychosis have the potential to contain the morbidity of schizophrenia and similar conditions. However, research criteria that have relied on severity and number of positive symptoms are limited in their specificity and risk high false-positive rates. Our objective was to examine the degree to which measures of recency of onset or intensification of positive symptoms [a.k.a., new or worsening (NOW) symptoms] contribute to predictive capacity.
We recruited 109 help-seeking individuals whose symptoms met criteria for the Progression Subtype of the Attenuated Positive Symptom Psychosis-Risk Syndrome defined by the Structured Interview for Psychosis-Risk Syndromes and followed every three months for two years or onset of syndromal psychosis.
Forty-one (40.6%) of 101 participants meeting CHR criteria developed a syndromal psychotic disorder [mostly (80.5%) schizophrenia] with half converting within 142 days (interquartile range: 69–410 days). Patients with more NOW symptoms were more likely to convert (converters: 3.63 ± 0.89; non-converters: 2.90 ± 1.27; p = 0.001). Patients with stable attenuated positive symptoms were less likely to convert than those with NOW symptoms. New, but not worsening, symptoms, in isolation, also predicted conversion.
Results suggest that the severity and number of attenuated positive symptoms are less predictive of conversion to syndromal psychosis than the timing of their emergence and intensification. These findings also suggest that the earliest phase of psychotic illness involves a rapid, dynamic process, beginning before the syndromal first episode, with potentially substantial implications for CHR research and understanding the neurobiology of psychosis.
The authors developed a practical and clinically useful model to predict the risk of psychosis that utilizes clinical characteristics empirically demonstrated to be strong predictors of conversion to psychosis in clinical high-risk (CHR) individuals. The model is based upon the Structured Interview for Psychosis Risk Syndromes (SIPS) and accompanying clinical interview, and yields scores indicating one's risk of conversion.
Baseline data, including demographic and clinical characteristics measured by the SIPS, were obtained on 199 CHR individuals seeking evaluation in the early detection and intervention for mental disorders program at the New York State Psychiatric Institute at Columbia University Medical Center. Each patient was followed for up to 2 years or until they developed a syndromal DSM-4 disorder. A LASSO logistic fitting procedure was used to construct a model for conversion specifically to a psychotic disorder.
At 2 years, 64 patients (32.2%) converted to a psychotic disorder. The top five variables with relatively large standardized effect sizes included SIPS subscales of visual perceptual abnormalities, dysphoric mood, unusual thought content, disorganized communication, and violent ideation. The concordance index (c-index) was 0.73, indicating a moderately strong ability to discriminate between converters and non-converters.
The prediction model performed well in classifying converters and non-converters and revealed SIPS measures that are relatively strong predictors of conversion, comparable with the risk calculator published by NAPLS (c-index = 0.71), but requiring only a structured clinical interview. Future work will seek to externally validate the model and enhance its performance with the incorporation of relevant biomarkers.
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