The Congregation at Duke University Chapel

Love Thy Neighbor and Other Methods of Violence Prevention

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Love Thy Neighbor and Other Methods of Violence Prevention

presentation at Adult Forum by
Sandra Wartski
Psy.D Licensed Psychologist
February 23, 2014

Love Thy Neighbor & Other Violence Prevention Intervention Strategies

images of people in mourning, yellow crime scene tape

Sandra Wartski, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

Silber Psychological Services


Violence affects all of us at some level and represents an issue of vital national and international importance handgun

Disaster Footprint

Psychological magnitude of a disaster, especially an intentional one, is many times greater than the physical magnitude Venn diagram of Psychological Footprint being much larger than Physical Footprint

(Shultz et al., 2003)

CDC Prevalence Figures

graph showing decreasing incidence rate of violence 1994 - 2010

School Violence Prevalence

(per 1000 students) graph showing decreasing incidence rate of violence 1994 - 2007

(U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Crime Victimization Survey, 2007)

College Student Violence

graph showing decreasing incidence rate of violence 1995 - 2002

(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?

large question mark

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.”

Key Findings

  • 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)

image of woman holding her bowed head

Differing Demographics

  • From many types of families
  • All incomes
  • All races
  • Most had close friends
  • Public and private schools
  • All academic backgrounds
  • Few had disciplinary records

Some Similarities

  • 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?”

photo of Evan Ramsey

(Evan Ramsey, Bethel, AK)


A: “That’s where most of my pain and suffering was.”

Yet, remember:
Schools are generally very safe, according to national crime rates.


photo of Luke Woodham

(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?

montage of photos of interior of movie theatre, library, youths playing video games, handgun, youth watching television

It's Complicated!


  • 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

Evolving Field

graphic Research, Experience, and Data

How Do We Prevent?

Nothing is worse than doing nothing

image of young man watching television

Proactive Better Than Reactive

"It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark" - Howard Ruff image of reconstruction of Noah's ark

Let’s Plant Seeds ...

image of hand planting seeds, with text of knowledge, compassion, support, and advocacy

At the Legislative Level

photo of U.S. capitol building


image of bumper sticker - SAVE Mental Health Care - SAVE Mental Health

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

Stigma Busting

there's no health without mental health

Interrupting the Negative Cycle

Stigma -> Avoidance -> Misunderstanding -> Internalized Stigma/Shame -> Conceal Symptoms -> Less treatment -> repeat ...

ending gun violence puzzle - 1,000,000 pieces

Policy Improvements for Background Checks?

cycle of arrows in a circle

At the Community Level: Protective Factors

  • Living with a sense of mutual responsibility
  • Cross-generational contact and connectedness
  • Safe, supportive, communicative communities and schools
photo of participants in worship service

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 photos of professional appointment, medications

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

faith, spelled with wood alphabet blocks

  • 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 photo of stack or 8 or more hands, as in laying on for prayer

At the Individual Level: Be Aware of Risk Factors

  • Significant loss
  • Feeling bullied or persecuted
  • Easy access to weapons
  • Bystander silence
photo of one friend comforting another

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"

Communicating Concern:

  • 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
  • Prayers
  • Support for her treatment
  • A ‘welcome back’

When Ellyn had mental illness, she received:

no visits, no notes, no meals, no prayers, no support, no welcome

Consider Compassion

  • 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?

photo of someone with hands over their head

Remember the words of the shooters:

Listen to us photo of father and son working together

image of clouds in sky in shape of the word 'hope'

What to do when tragedy strikes?

photo of flowers, etc. scattered as a memorial

Typical Reactions and Responses

  • Stress following disaster can be magnified
  • ABCimpact:
    • Affect
    • Behavior
    • Cognitions
photo of three people is stages of despair and recovery

After ABC Impact, Engage in DEF:

(Adapted from

  • Distress Minimization
  • Emotional Support
  • Family/Friends Involvement

photos of people interacting

Tap into Resilience

photo of basketball in mid-air

We are the windows, and through each of us is
           reflected our experience and what we make of
           that...It is up to everyone what they do with this
           experience and where they go from here. quote from Sara Martin
           overlaid upon photo of light streaming through stained glass windows

Thank you for doing your part to keep our world safe!

image of multiple hands supporting in mid-air a globe with continents of Earth on its surface