School shootings have been a pressing matter as of late. Earlier this year, the Parkland community in Florida had to deal with the trauma and shock of a shooting that took place at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. However, this was not an isolated incident for the 2018 school year. This past May, Santa Fe High School in Texas endured the loss of students and teachers. According to the U.S. Education Department, nearly 240 schools reported at least one incident involving a school related shooting in the 2015-2016 school year.
So what are schools to do? Not only to make the school a safe place for students and staff after a violent act has occurred, but how can they prevent or stop these crimes from happening?
For Florida’s school districts, a new requirement is now part of a law rushed through the legislature that requires school registration forms to include a question about whether a child has ever been referred for mental health services. Parents of the school worry that the information could fall into the wrong hands and further the stigma that surrounds mental health. This in turn could possibly lead to bullying, harassment, and victimization by the student’s peers.
“If my child was on a playground and something happened, they might think ‘This child has seen mental health services. This must mean something’ – more than it really means,” says Laura Goodhue, who has a 9-year-old son on the autism spectrum and a 10-year-old son who has seen a psychologist.
One assumption frequently arises after a school shooting and that is that mental illness causes gun violence. Many news stations put fear into the public that someone who is mentally ill can and will cause extreme violence, while this may be far from the truth. “We have a tendency as human beings to pay particular attention to unusual events in our environment, so when acts of violence are committed by people with mental illness, they may be particularly salient in our minds,” says Paul Appelbaum, a psychiatrist at Columbia University (4).
While it is true that some mass shootings are committed by people who suffer from a mental illness, these cases are in the minority. In fact, few mass killers actually suffer from a diagnosable, serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and psychotic spectrum disorders. A 2004 analysis of more than 60 mass murders in North America, for example, found that just 6% were psychotic at the time of the killings. Another study done in 2016 found that less than 1% of all yearly gun related homicides that were considered mass shootings involved a shooter who was mentally ill. (4)
Going back to the schools, wanting to know more about a student is a good thing for those that support them. It is important for the school to get to know who is attending and what their medical background looks like. This information can help the student get the best education possible and receive help in a way that is fitting. However, when it comes to knowing someone’s mental history solely to protect the other students’ safety, this becomes harder to swallow when there is not enough data to support the theory that mental illness causes violence.
Janae Shillito, Community Relations Director for The Kim Foundation
Janae Shillito has been with The Kim Foundation since February 2017. She holds two science degrees with her alma maters including the University of Nebraska at Omaha and the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Janae’s love of volunteering and helping those without a voice created a strong desire to become a part of the non-profit world. In her spare time, she enjoys anything crafty, reading a good book, and being outside with her husband, Cory, and Rottweiler, Hank.