Psychiatry Expert: How Do We Assess School Threats and Prevent School Shootings?

Article ID: 690547

Released: 5-Mar-2018 2:40 PM EST

Source Newsroom: Stony Brook Medicine

Expert Pitch
  • Credit: Stony Brook University

    Deborah Weisbrot, MD

After many horrific school shootings, we must turn our attention and energy to how to prevent these tragedies.

Deborah M. Weisbrot, MD, clinical professor of psychiatry at Stony Brook Medicine, has provided threat assessments for Long Island school districts for more than 20 years and is available to discuss steps to identify the students at risk of becoming a school shooter, as well as major interventions that can potentially circumvent these tragic acts. She says:   

“School threats create intense anxiety and confusion for administrators, teachers, students and parents, as well as for consulting clinicians. Given today’s tense environment, there is a commonly encountered but problematic reaction of school administrators to suspend any student who make threats for extended periods of time instead of immediately developing  a plan to address the student’s problems. This kind of ‘zero tolerance’ policy became common after Columbine, but the isolation and other factors associated with suspending students might even intensify the level of danger risk.

Often, schools send a worrisome student to an emergency room with a request to ‘clear’ the student to return to school. Unfortunately, unless the student is held in the emergency room for an extended period of time  it is often extremely difficult, if not virtually impossible, to obtain sufficient clinical information to gauge the severity and intensity of the threat. Even after such an assessment, another major challenge exists-what to do with the student who has made a threat. Should the individual be hospitalized, placed in a day treatment programs, placed in a different school setting, or warrant another type of intervention?  Moreover, will the school district be equipped to provide needed interventions?

We also need to consider the media’s potential role in creating blueprints for school shootings. Cyberspace provides an ideal medium for potential school shooters to interact with anonymous supporters of violence. Incredibly, there exist school shooter fan clubs with active memberships.  

So how do we prevent school shootings?  Lock up every student with ‘mental illness’? Provide every student with bullet-proof backpacks? Arm teachers? These are not the answers. We must start by insisting that every school have a threat assessment team with formally trained school mental health counselors who can recognize the early clues of a student at risk for violence.  The time to intervene is early in the course when interventions can still be effective.”  

About Deborah Weisbrot

Deborah M. Weisbrot, MD, is a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Stony Brook Medicine and a Distinguished Fellow of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. She has provided threat assessments for Long Island school districts for over 20 years and has evaluated numerous students who have made threats. Dr. Weisbrot has published and lectured nationally on the subject of threat assessment and is currently engaged in research examining the phenomenology of students who make threats.


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