Love Thy Neighbor and Other Methods of Violence Prevention
Psy.D Licensed Psychologist
February 23, 2014
Love Thy Neighbor & Other Violence Prevention Intervention Strategies
Sandra Wartski, Psy.D.
Silber Psychological Services
Violence affects all of us at some level and represents an issue of vital national and international importance
Psychological magnitude of a disaster, especially an intentional one, is many times greater than the physical magnitude
(Shultz et al., 2003)
CDC Prevalence Figures
School Violence Prevalence
(per 1000 students)
(U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Crime Victimization Survey, 2007)
College Student Violence
(U.S. Dept. of Education, 2010)
Schools are safe
- Statistically, students are safer at school than home
- National School Safety Center data:
- 53 million students; 119,000 schools; 93 incidents in ten years
- 9.3 ÷ 119,000 = .000781 or 1 in 12,804 per year
- average school has a student committing a murder once every 12,804 years
Source: School Violence Myths (2003).
Colleges are Safe
- Lower rate of violent crime on college campus than in the general community
- Students are 75x more likely to die of drug/alcohol overdose than murder (Leger, 2012)
- US Dept. of Education (2010) data:
- 1997-2009, 4200 colleges, average of 26 per year
- average college can expect 1 murder every 166 years
Why Does It Happen?
No Easy Explanation
- We want answers – but those often aren’t available
- All behavior, including violence, is complex and multi-determined
- All behavior, including violence, is an interaction of individual people and the environments in which they live
US Secret Service Study on School Shootings
- Partnered with US Dept. of Education following the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School
- Studying to see if they could find a “profile” of a typical school shooter
- Developed key findings, uncovered myths, created Safe School Initiative
Is there a profile of the typical school shooter?
“The great majority of students who fit any given profile will not actually pose a risk of targeted violence.”
- Killers do not often just “snap”
- They plan, and they tell others what they are planning
- They acquire weapons
- These children take a long, planned, public path toward violence
- Many saw killing as a way to solve their problems
“They told of behaviors that, if they occurred in the workplace, would meet the legal definitions of harassment.”
(Bill Dedman, Chicago Sun-Times)
- From many types of families
- All incomes
- All races
- Most had close friends
- Public and private schools
- All academic backgrounds
- Few had disciplinary records
- All boys
- All desperate
- All reference the attack as an attempt to solve a problem
- Few had close adult relationships
- Few participated in organized group activities
When asked “Why?”
- “I am not insane. I am angry. I am not spoiled or lazy...I killed because people like me are mistreated every day...I am malicious because I am miserable.” (Luke Woodham)
- “Hate drives me... I am so full of rage...Everyone is against me.” (Eric Houston)
- “I know parenting had nothing to do with what happens today.” (Kip Kinkel)
“Why at school?”
(Evan Ramsey, Bethel, AK)
A: “That’s where most of my pain and suffering was.”
Schools are generally very safe, according to national crime rates.
(Luke Woodham; Pearl, MS)
Q: What would it have taken for a grown-up to know?
A: Pay attention. Just sit down and talk with me.
Q: What advice do you have for adults?
A: I think they should try to bond more with their students... Talk to them... It doesn’t have to be about anything. Just have some kind of relationship with them.
Violent Images Impact?
- Media can influence behavior
- Studies do point to connection between media violence and aggressive behavior in some children
- Some known effects of repeated exposure
- Certain individuals more at risk
- False positive and methodological flaw arguments
- More about displacement of other activities?
- Safe outlet?
- Healthy, well-adjusted person with few risk factors won’t become violent because of violent media
Contribution of Mental Illness?
- Beware of how being defined
- Serious and UNTREATED mental illness can lead to violent acts
- But main causes of violence are related to OTHER factors
What is Mental Illness?
- A disease that causes mild to severe disturbances in thought or behavior or coping
- There are more than 200 classified forms of mental illness
- May be caused by environmental stresses, genetic factors, biochemical imbalances, or a combination
- Mental illnesses are often physical as well as emotional and psychological
- With proper treatment, many individuals learn to cope or recover from a mental illness
Mental Illness & Violence
- Most people with mental illnesses are not violent
- Most people who are violent are not mentally ill
- People with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence, not perpetrators of violence
How Do We Prevent?
Proactive Better Than Reactive
"It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark" - Howard Ruff
Let’s Plant Seeds ...
At the Legislative Level
Access to Care is Critical
- The consequences of not getting help for mental health problems can be serious
- Let’s make the shift from looking the other way to lending a hand
- Makes for good public health, good public safety and good sense
Interrupting the Negative Cycle
Policy Improvements for Background Checks?
At the Community Level: Protective Factors
- Living with a sense of mutual responsibility
- Cross-generational contact and connectedness
- Safe, supportive, communicative communities and schools
Violence Intervention Programs
- Many interventions aimed at reducing violence have not been sufficiently evaluated or proven effective
- Programs that seek to prevent violence through fear and tough treatment appear ineffective
- Intensive programs that aim at developing skills and competencies can work
Mental Illness in Your Community
- 1 in 4 adults experiences a mental health disorder in a given year
- About 1 in 17 lives with a serious mental illness
- 1 in 10 children and youth experience a mental health disorder
- 80% of people with multiple mental health and substance abuse disorders report onset before age 20.
Untreated Mental Illness Can Lead to:
- School failure - 1/2
- Unemployment - 2/3
- Homelessness – 25%
- Hospitalization – 1 in 5 related to MH
- Criminalization – 20-25% of inmates
- Suicide – one every 15.8 minutes
Treatment can work
But not if you’re not in treatment
Many Barriers to Treatment
- Navigating the complicated mental health system
- Shame and misinformation about mental illness
- Fewer than one-third of adults and one-half of children who live with mental health needs receive any level of treatment in any one year
- There are long delays — an average of 8-10 years — before people get help for symptoms of mental illness
Faith Communities Can Be Critical
- 60% of people in emotional distress turn first to clergy for help before going to a psychologist or psychiatrist (post-9/11 ARC survey)
- Far more churches, temples and mosques than mental health care providers in our rural and urban communities, and they are more evenly distributed geographically
- Faith groups are already committed to education and to social justice advocacy for the marginalized, poor and oppressed in society
Types of Spiritual Support
- Create a safe place for the one who is struggling
- Offer the gift of presence
- Listen and share the journey
Encourage Talking to Someone Who Can Help
A sign of wisdom, not weakness
At the Individual Level: Be Aware of Risk Factors
- Significant loss
- Feeling bullied or persecuted
- Easy access to weapons
- Bystander silence
At the Individual Level: Be Aware of Warning Signs
- Less profiling, more awareness and more communication
- In actual incidents, intention was often communicated before the event
- Respond to direct statements about the intention to harm oneself or other members of the community
- Trust your own "gut feeling"
- Carefront/confront the individual directly with your concerns or suspicions
- Engage in careful listening, in kind and non-judgmental way
- Reinforce for disclosure
- Know your limits, make a referral
- Orient to action
Responding to Mental Illness
When Ellyn had cancer, she received:
- Visits in the hospital
- Notes and cards
- Meals that were made for her family
- Support for her treatment
- A ‘welcome back’
When Ellyn had mental illness, she received:
- Talk to them the same as before, which lets them know your feelings about them and respect for them hasn’t changed
- They’re the same person, just dealing with an issue that is less visibly obvious than a broken arm or the flu.
- People often make insensitive to totally outrageous comments. When in doubt, offer compassion, support and stability in your relationship
Rather than Silence, Consider Helpful Responses:
- Express your concern: ‘You’re having panic attacks? I’m so sorry to hear that. From what I’ve heard, that can be just awful.’
- Offer your support: “Please let me know if you need anything, or if you’d just like to talk.”
- General advice can be well received: “I hope you’ve found good, caring treatment.”
- Leave the more advanced advice to the psychological or medical experts, especially as it can be experienced as intrusive and can even cause more problems.
Assist with Spiritual Questions Which Often Arise
- Where is God in this?
- Why do bad things happen to good people?
- How can my faith help me heal?
- What now? Is there meaning and purpose for my life? Where do I belong?
Remember the words of the shooters:
Listen to us
What to do when tragedy strikes?
Typical Reactions and Responses
- Stress following disaster can be magnified
After ABC Impact, Engage in DEF:
(Adapted from www.healthcaretoolbox.org)
- Distress Minimization
- Emotional Support
- Family/Friends Involvement
Tap into Resilience
Thank you for doing your part to keep our world safe!