Following the terrible events at Newtown, CT, there have been many calls for the mental health community to step up to fight this senseless violence.
The question is “How?” While the links between violence, mental illness and gun control are very complex, is it possible that we can do more? Certainly the mental health community knows how to help people deal with trauma, grief and loss, and On Good Authority has produced several programs on these topics. But what do we know about prevention?
Do we know enough about what some researchers have called “Pathways to Violence” to be predictive?
Do we know enough about threat assessment, warning behaviors, and risk factors?
What about assessing likely severity and probability of outcome?
Can these behaviors be identified, coded, and utilized in a valid manner?
Is there a “People who might be Violent Someday” database, as there is with sex offenders and with people who threaten the President?
Do we report schizophrenics to some as yet unknown place?
Do we report anyone who seems weird?
Do we report people with Asperger’s?
What about our ethical standards regarding confidentiality and duty to warn?
Once a person is identified as a serious risk, then what?
And really, given the demographics of the rarity of these terrible events, and the epidemiology showing that only 4 percent of violence in the United States can be attributed to people with mental illness, would new laws about this be overreacting?
You might wish to read the excellent article, “The Role of Warning Behaviors in Threat Assessment: An Exploration and Suggested Typology,” by J. Reid Meloy, Ph.D.*, Jens Hoffmann, Ph.D., et al, published in Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 2011. Here is the link:
Let’s try, in these next few weeks, to pool our ideas and get a dialogue going. Then we can pull a report together and send it to—where? To our professional organizations? To Homeland Security? To our representatives in Congress? To the FBI, as with people who threaten the President? Maybe one of you knows.
Surely, with our collected knowledge, we can make some contribution to help save our children and ourselves from massacres like these.
Barbara Alexander, LCSW, BCD