Safety Resources

Mental Health & Mass Shootings: How Identifying the Right Problem Leads to the Right Solution

On April 16, 2007, Seung-Hui Cho, a Student at Virginia Tech gunned down 32 classmates, and injured many more. Shortly after the attack, President Bush Jr. requested that the Department of Homeland Security-with the help of the Secret Service- investigate the shooting to determine what could have been done to prevent this attack or at the least, respond more effectively.

Here was a young man, again who was given 3 mental health assessments, all of which was prior to the attack, and he was deemed “not a threat to himself or others”. It was then the Secret Service realized it will not be easy to determine a profile of who will be the next active shooter.

The Common Denominator is NOT Mental Illness

Did the mental health professional(s) get it wrong? Based on the results of their assessment, probably not. It is easy to conclude-and let’s be honest, it is easier to accept-someone who is a mass murder must have a mental illness. However, the reality is the majority of mass shootings are not related to the shooter having a mental illness.

Dr. Jonathan Metzl, a psychiatrist and director of the Center for Medicine, Health, and Society at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee stated, “Most of the research shows that people with mental illness are actually less likely than the general population to go on to shoot somebody else or to commit mass violence.”

Even the National Library of Medicine Article published an epidemiological study showing the large majority of people with serious mental illnesses are never violent. And others, including the FBI, are agreeing you cannot look at mental illness or mental health Issues to identify the next active shooter. The common denominator comes down to something that more people can actually relate to vs mental illness.

The FBI evaluated the behaviors of active shooters between 2000-2013 and surmised their findings in a report titled “A Study of Pre-Attack Behaviors of Active Shooters”. The vast majority of active shooters did not have a mental illness. Although, they did “display concerning behaviors over time that were observable to others around the shooter”. These included mental health issues such as, problematic interpersonal interactions and leakage of violent intent often brought on by stressors like financial trouble, death of a loved one, being bullied, or marital problems, etc. The FBI concluded although we can determine that mental health issues are common with active shooters, we can't conclude we can identify the next active shooter by looking at mental health.

Why is this? Almost all of us will deal with some form of mental health challenges in our lifetime, and we know most of these are brought on by what are described as life stressors, which are common to everyone. In fact, the FBI, Secret Service and Homeland Security quickly realized using this approach alone is too broad and subjective to identify the next active shooter.

As the study researched shooter demographics, they found a “complex and troubling picture of individuals who fail to successfully navigate multiple stressors in their lives while concurrently displaying several observable, concerning behaviors…and frequently communicating threats or leaks indications of an intent to attack”. Their conclusion is an active shooter shows a trajectory of violence, there are key, observable and identifiable behavior which creates a critical opportunity to step in and disrupt. Ultimately, this leads to saving lives.

Right Problem, Right Solution

Preventing workplace violence is possible. Instead of teaching employees to Run, Hide or Fight when an incident occurs, you can train them how to identify these patterns in behaviors to prevent incidents occurring within any workplace. Not only does this reduce workplace vulnerability, it also saves lives, maintains employee morale and prevents financial devastation.

More Info About United Safety Training Systems

United Training Systems has created a training system that can identify a person on a pathway to violence. We have used 29 years of scientifically reliable research into human behavior plus additional insight from the FBI, CIA and Homeland Security to identify an active shooter and other criminals. This is the only training system that gives every organization and employee the knowledge they need to prevent mass shootings, sexual assault, physical assault, bullying, and other violent behavior from occurring in the workplace before it happens.

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