Risk factors, guns and media: Questions after Sandy Hook shooting

Sandy HookAs the news spread on Dec. 14 about the violence in Newtown, Conn., and in the days that followed, we all had questions. Safe Start Center Director Elena Cohen answers some of the most common questions in the wake of this school shooting, and others.

1)      Are people with mental illness more violent than others?

Researchers have been working for decades to try to figure out whether there’s a link between mental illness and violence, and if so, which people are likely to act violently.  It is now accepted that people with severe mental illness (i.e. schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and some personality disorders) are more likely to commit violent acts than others.  But the risk is very small.  The vast majority of mentally ill people will not commit violent acts and it would be very difficult to predict exact who would become violent.  The risk, however, rises when individuals with mental illness abuse drugs and alcohol.

Psychologists have come up with risks and protective factors for violent behavior—analogous to risk factors for heart disease such as age, blood pressure, smoking and cholesterol—and are including them in the risk assessment. Some of the approaches to risk assessment consider the presence of a mental illness but only as a small contributor to the risk, outweighed by factors such as previous violent acts, alcohol use, impulsivity, gang membership, and family support.   The goal is to become aware of the relationship between circumstances, behaviors and risks factors for violence and to be able to intervene to stop the cycle.

2)      Can we predict which children will become violent?

It is almost impossible to diagnose accurately if children or teenagers may become violent because their brains are still developing and some “normal” behavior at these ages can be misinterpreted as pathological.  In addition, the social cost of branding a child may be too high.  However, a growing number of psychologists and psychiatrists believe that assessing children and addressing concerns early in order to benefit from evidence-based interventions/treatment – instead of waiting until they are in the juvenile justice system – can change their course.

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A Tragic First Day of School: Tools to help students

Monday, the first day back to class for Perry Hall High School students, a 15-year-old student bought a gun to school and allegedly shot another student, who remains in critical condition.

As we’ve discussed before, community and school violence can do more than injure a child physically. The damage exposure to violence can do to children mentally and emotionally can have long-term effects and hinder their development.

A guidance counselor wrestled alleged gunman Robert Wayne Gladden Jr. to the floor, protecting surrounding students.  In the days and weeks to follow, students may need help coping with and understanding what happened. Our new toolkit, which includes an easy to understand infographic full of suggestions of how to help, is for teachers who may find themselves in the same situation as Perry Hall teachers.

Our thoughts and hopes of healing are with the injured student, his family and the young shooter who the media reports had been bullied previously.

Here are some other Safe Start’s resources in an effort to assist adults and children who may have witnessed this event.

Healing the Invisible Wounds: Children’s Exposure to Violence – A Guide for Families

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CEV in Your School

As educators prepare new lesson plans and welcome students back to school, we wanted to offer some tools to help them deal with a problem that is bigger than they may realize.

The National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence, a Department of Justice and CDC survey, found that 60 percent of children were exposed to violence in the previous year. Be it violence in their homes, schools or communities it can impact children negatively. Further study of the survey found that 42 percent of victimizations were known to school authorities, like school resource officers.

In an effort to equip school staff with the knowledge to help prevent, reduce and treat the negative impacts of exposure to violence, the Safe Start Center has put together a toolkit full of useful resources, including our engaging new infographic.

CEV in the Schools infographic is part of a larger toolkit for educators to help them understand children’s exposure to violence.

A useful, shareable reference, the infographic includes more statistics about children exposed to violence and tips on how teachers and administrators can help.

Considering children spend a large amount of their time in classrooms, it’s no surprise that exposure to violence can negatively impact their behavior and school performance. Impacts of these incidents don’t stay in the environment where they happened. They can bleed into every part of the child’s life, harming their development and putting them at risk for lifelong struggles. A child who witnesses domestic violence at home, is sexually abused, or bullied needs a caring, trusted adult to help them cope and heal.

Once educators have made themselves aware of the issues surrounding children’s exposure to violence, they can spread the word by sharing the infographic and other resources including the Tip Sheet for Parents and Caregivers and our guide for families, Healing the Invisible Wounds (also available in Spanish).

When everyone is informed and works together, a child who has been exposed to violence can find the help they need to cope.

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