Mental health is a factor in gun violence, but it’s not that simple
Schools need training and resources to recognize warning signs
According to some reports, more than half of all mass shooters displayed one or more warning signs before conducting the shooting. School staff are able to observe some of these signs throughout a student’s schooling. As a retired principal and former special education teacher, I have seen the benefits of early intervention.
The flames of mental health issues that are not addressed smolder within the students. Failure to recognize warning signs and failing to take action or lack the resources to do so effectively when those signs are recognized all contribute to fanning the flames. And when these flames are ignited, it is often too late.
We have to be proactive. We need to provide more training and resources to our school staff and school administration to recognize the subtle signs that a student may have a mental health problem. Schools that work with local mental health agencies to provide local services are excellent models for supporting teachers and students.
Even in the hands of qualified personnel, screening can be questionable
Strengthening mental health services to facilitate the early identification of those who may be vulnerable to this form of violence is at the forefront of the national talks on tackling rampages.
While mental health research and patient care should be expanded to play an increasingly important role in the assessment and treatment of those at risk, it is also important to underscore the existing limitations of mental health assessment to counteract this appalling societal ill .
Based on the current clinical and research literature, accurate identification and prediction of interpersonal violence of this type is notoriously unreliable, even in the hands of well-trained and highly qualified clinical personnel. In addition, screening for vulnerability to such violence typically results in over-identification of those deemed to pose a serious and imminent threat.
This clearly supports the argument that driving a killing spree is significantly influenced by that person’s access to lethal means. Therefore, conducting rigorous background checks, coupled with severely limiting the availability of weapons of mass destruction, should significantly reduce the incidence of this type of homicide.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
The author is a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist and an emergency department mental health clinician.