Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/AP Photo, Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
- After a spate of mass shootings in the US, right-wing figures have suggested a link to antidepressants.
- Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Tucker Carlson have claimed several mass shooters took SSRIs, suggesting they are to blame.
- Experts say the claims are a “political diversionary tactic.”
After the mass shooting at a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois – the latest mass shooting to horrify the United States– several right-wing figures suggested that antidepressants could be to blame.
“When are we going to have an honest conversation about drug abuse, mental illness, and SSRIs??? And deadly side effects,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene wrote on Twitter, referring to a type of antidepressant.
“It’s time to stop blaming the gun and have honest conversations about the real causes of mass shootings,” she said.
On his show, Fox News host Tucker Carlson made a similar connection between SSRIs and mass shootings.
“A lot of young men in America are going nuts. Are you surprised? And by the way, a shockingly large number of them have been prescribed psychotropic drugs by their doctors, SSRI or antidepressants, and that would include quite a few mass shooters,” he said.
Psychiatrists say that there is little evidence to suggest the medications could increase homicidal tendencies.
“Blaming medications as a primary contributor to the spate of mass shootings simply isn’t supported by evidence, and to me represents more of a political diversionary tactic than a real scientific theory,” David Rettew, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and medical director of Lane County Behavioral Health in Eugene, Oregon, told Insider.
What are SSRIs?
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are used to treat depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders, according to WebMD. They help make more serotonin available by blocking the reuptake process.
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SSRIs are the most commonly used antidepressants as they are considered relatively safe and cause fewer side effects than similar medications, per WebMD.
Like any medication, SSRIs have some potential side effects, which include insomnia, headaches, nausea, agitation, and reduced sexual desire, WebMD says.
Are antidepressants linked to violence?
The question of whether antidepressants cause an increase in violent tendencies is a complex one.
Antidepressants have been linked to higher rates of suicide risk among young people, according to the FDA, but experts say there is no evidence to suggest they increase violence or homicidal urges towards others.
“On an individual basis, I never say never when it comes to a medication reaction because people can have some extreme sensitivities,” Rettew said.
“However, people have been studying antidepressants or SSRIs in various systematic, randomized, double-blind controlled ways, and homicidal shootings just don’t show up as a side-effect in these trials.”
When Insider asked Rep. Greene’s office for evidence of her claims about SSRIs and violence, her spokesperson replied by pointing to one of her tweets, which links to a page listing school shooters who supposedly took psychiatric drugs.
—Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene🇺🇸 (@RepMTG) July 5, 2022
Similarly, during his monologue on his Fox News show on Tuesday, Tucker Carlson named several mass shooters who he claimed were taking SSRIs, such as Zoloft and Prozac, including the Columbine shooter and Charleston church shooter.
However, experts note that correlation does not equal causation. If indeed many of these shooters were taking antidepressants, it does not mean that they were driven to violence by them – simply that they had mental health issues.
“A much more plausible explanation is not that the medications are causing this aggression, but that the underlying condition that the medications are being used for is driving the behavior and that the antidepressant medications just don’t work as much as we would like them to for a lot of people,” Rettew said.
Insider reached out to a Fox News spokesperson for clarification on Carlson’s claims, and they responded by sharing several links, including articles naming mass shooters who had taken antidepressants.
However, Carlson and Greene’s theories fail to note that many mass shooters had no history of taking psychiatric medication.
A 2021 investigation by Voice of America found that only 23% of mass shooters from 1966 to February 2020 took psychiatric medication.
The report found that two-thirds of mass shooters had a history of mental health concerns, supporting the theory that underlying mental health issues were the driving cause rather than the medication.
The Fox News spokesperson also referred Insider to a study published in the PLoS Medicine journal in 2015 that suggested that people aged 15-24 were more likely to commit violent crimes when on a low dose of antidepressants. However, this risk was reduced when taking a higher dose of the drugs.
One of the study’s authors, Seena Fazel, expressed caution about linking SSRIs and violence, per MedScape.
“Our own view is that some evidence suggests that it’s a bit more complicated than that because we found a link with subtherapeutic doses of SSRIs, and that would suggest to us that it may be that it’s actually a lack of treatment [and] it could be residual symptoms that are driving this link.”
More guns, more gun-related deaths
Carlson claimed that SSRI prescriptions have risen by more than 3,000% on his show, implying a link to the rise in US mass shootings.
The US is the world’s biggest consumer of antidepressants, according to data from 2016. Iceland, Australia, and Canada are next.
The United States also has the highest rates of mass shootings of any industrialized country. In the first 145 days of this year, there have been 214 mass shootings (defined by Gun Violence Archive as shootings in which at least four people were shot).
But comparatively, Iceland has only had one fatal shooting since 2007, despite having a “gun-loving population.”
Various firearms hang on special mounts on the wall.
Data has shown that there are higher rates of gun crime and gun-related deaths in industrialized countries that have more guns.
Mass shootings in Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom prompted the countries to tighten gun laws. A comparison by the Council of Foreign Relations showed that gun violence has remained low in those countries.
As the gun control debate continues, Democrats and Republicans have drawn up distinctly different plans to prevent future mass shootings.
Democrats have generally pushed for stronger gun-control laws, while Republicans have largely resisted.
Critics say that figures such as Greene and Carlson, who both have histories of making spurious claims, are using antidepressants as a scapegoat to deflect calls to tighten up rules of gun access.
—Shannon Watts (@shannonrwatts) July 6, 2022