Mental health is a factor in gun violence, but it’s not so simple

Schools need training, resources to spot warning signs

According to some reports, more than half of all mass shooters showed one or more warning signs prior to carrying out the shooting. School personnel are in a position to witness some of these signs throughout a student’s school years. As a retired superintendent of schools and former special educator, I have seen the benefits of early intervention.

The flames of mental health issues, left unaddressed, smolder in students. Lack of recognition of warning signs and the failure to take action, or lack of resources to do so effectively, when those signs are recognized all contribute to fueling the flames. And when those flames ignite, it is often too late.

We must be proactive. We need to provide our school staff and administrators with more training and resources to identify the subtle signs that a student may have a mental health issue. Schools that partner with local mental health agencies to provide services on site are excellent models for providing support to teachers and students.

Get Today in Opinion

Kathrine LeTourneau


Even in hands of skilled staff, screening can be questionable

In the forefront of the national conversation about combating rampage killing, there is a strong emphasis on bolstering mental health services to facilitate the early identification of people who may be prone to this form of violence.

While mental health research and patient care services should expand to play an increasingly important role in the evaluation and treatment of people who are 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 kind is notoriously unreliable, even in the hands of well-trained and highly skilled clinical staff. Moreover, screening for proneness to such violence typically results in the overidentification of people who are classified as serious and imminent threats.

This clearly supports the argument that a person’s going forward with rampage murder is significantly influenced by that person’s access to lethal means. Therefore, the implementation of rigorous background checks together with sharply limiting the availability of weapons of mass destruction should substantially reduce the occurrence of this type of homicidal behavior.

Jerrold Pollak

Portsmouth, NH

The writer is a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist and an emergency services mental health clinician.

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