Fourteen months after 20 children and six adults were shot to death a school shooting in Newtown, Conn., and with other mass public shootings occurring all too frequently, the country still is struggling to find ways to stop the violence.
A couple of local experts agree with many nationwide who say better access to mental health services could go a long way toward detecting and preventing that widespread bloodshed.
Paul Lindenmuth, an associate technical professor of criminal justice at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre who also has a background in sociology, said there needs to be better access to those services.
“The big problem has been that we’re really lacking in the areas of mental health and dealing with people with mental health issues,” Lindenmuth said. “Our legislators … have dropped the ball when it comes to this area for detection and services.”
Joseph Rogan, Ed.D., professor of education at Misericordia University in Dallas Township, bemoaned budget cuts that decreased the numbers of school counselors. But he also said there is too easy access to guns.
He said there are certain characteristics mass shooters share, and teachers need to keep alert for students who may be a bit off because they are socially awkward or bullied.
In a course he taught last semester, “Methods for Management of Emotional Behaviors of Children,” he had students do a research project to try to discover what characteristics mass killers had in common.
“We determined what the big shots did,” Rogan said. “We came up with they were all socially challenged, all frustrated, usually they were bullied or had been put down — like the Columbine guys were — and they felt hopeless.”
They also were all white males except for one (the Fort Hood shooter), and they all had access to guns.
“If you take all those things together, you’ve got a pretty big population. Everybody in the class knew somebody like this,” he said.
The American Psychological Association, in a report issued in December, stated there is no single personality profile that can reliably predict who will use a gun in a violent act.
But the report also stated individual prediction is not necessary for violence prevention. The report suggests behavioral threat assessment teams made up of trained experts are the most effective tool to prevent mass shootings.
It also states access to mental health care is “woefully insufficient.” Preventing mass shootings and incidents of gun violence also means focusing on individuals at high risk for violence and early intervention for troubled kids, the report states.
Rogan said there always have been kids who act crazy or get into fights. But one thing that sets the shooters apart is they have access to guns.
“Seventy-five percent got them at home, 25 percent on the street somewhere,” Rogan said. “People own guns, they have some responsibility.”
He added, “Our culture is screwed up and the gun lobby is making it difficult to do anything.”
Lindenmuth said those who need help are not getting it.
“Let’s say you have a juvenile in school having some type of problem and has psychological issues,” said Lindenmuth, a retired police detective who also runs King’s College’s juvenile justice mentoring program, in which college students mentor juvenile first-time non-violent offenders.
“He may be referred to the school psychologist. It’s limited what services they can refer to because of insurance. The disability of this individual has been exacerbated because he has not been assessed properly,” he said.
He said more individuals are not getting the services they need, but not because there aren’t psychiatrists and psychologists out there.
“The psychological community has been crying for a solution for years and it is falling on deaf ears,” he said.
Lindenmuth added there also is a burnout rate among mental health professionals, and their pay is not commensurate with what they do.
“Working with these individuals tends to burn them out,” he said. “They have to get out for their own sanity.
Rogan also cited the cutting of school counselors for budgetary reasons.
“School counselors are cut and those that are out there are up to their ears with tests,” he said.