A consortium of researchers dedicated to improving the understanding of the human causes and consequences of terrorism

Mental Illness and Terrorism


The recent attack at an Orlando night club has provoked both intrigue and confusion. Given the lack of an obvious operational connection to the Islamic State and the shooter’s rather rudimentary religious knowledge and history of mental instability, some voices have rightfully questioned the appropriateness of the label ‘terrorism’ to something that rather resembles mass school shootings. Journalist Ryan Cooper, for example, writes that the shooting was not organized terrorism but mass murder, and the “result of a single unbalanced person”. The attack underscores the point emphasized by researchers that radicalization to violent extremism is a complex, psycho-social process that belies a simple explanation and that the role played by mental illness in the radicalization process is not well understood. While not a “cause” of radicalization, research suggests that mental illness may contribute to violent extremism when it combines with a host of other factors, like emotional trauma, substance abuse, and extremist narratives.

Publication Information

Full Citation:

James, Patrick Andres and Daniela Pisoiu. 2016. "Mental Illness and Terrorism." START (July). https://www.start.umd.edu/news/mental-illness-and-terrorism

START Author(s):